Watching patients die alone breaks doctors’ hearts in provincial Italy hospital

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Cremona (Reuters) – Doctor Romano Paolucci, who came out of retirement to help at a hospital in Italy’s coronavirus epicenter, says one of the hardest things for him is not so much seeing people die – he is used to that.

It is seeing them die alone, without a loved one by their side, often having to say their final farewell over a scratchy cell phone line.

Paolucci is one of 70 doctors working long and exhausting shifts at the small Oglio Po Hospital, which until only a month ago was a normal provincial institution treating everything from tonsils to tumors.

Now, it has been totally converted to treat coronavirus as Cremona province became the fourth-worst impacted province in Italy.

“I would say that we are at the end of our strength. This is a small hospital and we are taking in a lot of people … capacity is filled,” he said in a hallway amid the sounds of ventilators pumping oxygen, equipment beeping, and colleagues bustling.

More of that type of noise would be music to his ears.

“We do not have sufficient resources and especially staff because apart from everything else, now the staff are beginning to get sick,” he said.

While medical staff work exhausting shifts of 12 hour or more and struggle to keep the patients alive, they also have to deal with the heartbreak of people dying without a loved one by their side, a measure necessary to contain the virus.

“We have started a service in which we contact relatives on the phone to explain to them what is happening. So there is at least some contact,” he said.

“Patients who are able to call themselves use their cell phones but the older patients aren’t able to because they are just not used to it. So we try and keep in contact with the family.”