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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus: Italian doctor: ‘I can no longer hug my child’

Federica Pezzetti

Italian doctor speaks of the personal toll of being on the frontline in Italy's battle against the Coronavirus.

"At home I eat alone, sleep alone. I told my child the truth, but sometimes I give in and cry, without letting myself be seen. It is a moment, then I pick myself up again."

This is the personal story of Federica Pezzetti, a 37-year-old medical director at the Cremona hospital in northern Italy, who gave an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The doctor, who is working on the frontline in Italy's worst-hit region of Lombardy, said: "One of the things that is becoming more difficult to manage is that we medical mothers can no longer embrace our children. Many of us are starting to give in, now we need the psychologist."

Highlighting the immense professional and personal strain on doctors, Pezzetti told La Repubblica that she would like to describe "the human side of those who work here, perhaps it could really convince people to take precautions, to stay at home".

Federica Pezzetti

Family life

Asked how long it has been since she hugged her son, Pezzetti said: "For more than two weeks, since it has become so difficult and relentless, I and other mothers and doctors or nurses from our hospital have had to take precautions at home. I tried to explain to my seven year old why, telling the truth. When I come home I eat alone, I keep my distance from my husband, I sleep separately, I pay a lot of attention."

"It has happened that I finish at 03.30 in the morning, go home to sleep, and then return to the hospital at 08.00. I give my son a kiss in my thoughts. There are doctors who have moved their family to their in-laws to avoid the risk of infection, there is a neurosurgeon who has not seen his children for three weeks. Everything has changed."


Asked by La Repubblica if she cries, Pezzetti said: "Yes. But nobody sees. We cry alone, secretly, when we are a bit on edge, perhaps in a room. But it is a moment and then we pick ourselves up again: there is adrenaline, anger, tears. Sometimes we argue over small things, for gloves that have not arrived or masks that are not found, it doesn't take much to rattle your nerves. But it is also true that the entire hospital, I speak for Cremona, has brought out an unprecedented solidarity: everyone does everything, we all help each other, hierarchical roles no longer exist."


On the subject of being scared, Pezzetti said: "Of course there is a fear of contagion. But there is fear above all for our families, for those close to us. The precautions are endless. We are strong, but there are also many frailties: when you are very tired and you see ambulances arriving continuously and you know that the beds are at the limit, you start to give up because you do not see the end."


"We have asked that occupational psychologists are always present to help doctors and nurses. There is so much, so much need to talk, to let off steam. In an emergency, with shifts that often become 13-14 hours, between work and break there are doctors who remain inside even 34 hours, before taking a breath of air: it is logical that things can't go on like that for so long, unless there is support. In general terms, even if there is better coordination now between the various regional hospitals and it is starting to work, we need staff."

What is the first thing you will do when it is all over?

"I will hug my son and husband for a whole day. One day! And then I will sit on the sofa, free, relaxed, like in those days that now seem so far away, but will return."

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