They’ve been labeled as the new heroes, the soldiers on the front line in fighting this mysterious virus from the East that has changed our lives and the world we live in. Nurses, Doctors, Rescuers and Volunteers: it is they who, through their work, despite not seeing their children and relatives for weeks-on-end — and often with punishing shifts, are giving hope back to an Italy tormented by the coronavirus.
Today, we wanted to share with you the direct experience of a Rescuer who is personally experiencing the pandemic in the Red Zones of Lombardy, behind the wheel of an ambulance. Obviously, like all heroes, he preferred to remain anonymous. We offer you this interview, conducted by our Author, Federico Sebastiani who informs us about the past few weeks, witnessed by those who are “fighting” for us on the front line. We can never thank them enough.
Alberto (fancy name), tell us about your life as a Volunteer Rescuer.
“I am a Rescuer from the 118, and I’ve been providing emergency services for four years. I work in the west of Brescia, on the border with the province of Bergamo. I also deal with both scheduled services and sport-related services. Usually, I do three or four shifts per month in emergency services, and many scheduled services that consist of transporting people who have to go to medical examinations, such as hemodialysis. Lately, some of our operators have also been affected by COVID-19, and this has led to an increase in my interventions during the past month”.
How has your life as a Rescuer changed with the outbreak of the epidemic?
“It’s changed a lot. Currently, almost all of the surgeries we’re doing are on patients infected with COVID-19. There’s been a big drop in the number of surgeries on traumatized patients. So the type of our interventions has changed radically, just as my life has changed completely — because going out for infected patients constantly has led me to change my habits, my private life; to the point of isolating myself from my family. I haven’t seen my son since March 4th for my safety, his safety, the safety of my family and the crew I work with”.
Considering the most intense and difficult period, what was the situation like arriving in your ambulance at the hospital?
“The situation has changed a lot: we, as a crew, often have to wait for hours before we can unload the patient — with several ambulances in front of us, all overwhelmed by the situation but safe, waiting for the green light. The waiting time has ranged from half an hour, up to four hours. We also had to make a switch of the crew while waiting, because one shift ended and another had started. Obviously, after sanitizing the vehicle, because the crew members also had to protect themselves. Luckily, it happened only on a handful of occasions”.
What are the protective procedures you’ve had to adopt, as compared to “situation normal”?
“There has also been a radical change in this aspect. First of all, there is a very specific provision in Lombardy. With an infectious patient involving COVID-19, only the Crew Chief goes to the AREU and is appointed as the AREU contact person. He starts with gloves, protective gown, goggles, visor, shoes and FFP2 mask. This has also lengthened our starting times; in fact, this dressing procedure takes several minutes. Only the Crew Chief comes into contact with the COVID-19 patient, makes an initial assessment, and if he’s able to manage the situation by himself and the patient is able to walk, he does everything on his own: he records the parameters, calls the central office, communicates with the regional emergency operating room, from where he receives the indications on the destination hospital, and then he loads the patient by himself into the medical compartment — where only the two of them may enter: the Rescuer and the Driver, who wear only the FFP2 face mask and gloves, stay in the Driver’s compartment with the door closed, also for their own protection. These are, in short, the AREU protective procedures that have been adopted”.
Then the decontamination begins: what happens and what are the procedures?
“At the end of the service, starting from the contaminated gloves to the gown, everything is taken off and placed in the appropriate containers. Then, with the help of the Rescuers, the vehicle is sanitized with an alcohol-based solution. This operation takes between 10 and 15 minutes, before giving the go-ahead for another call. Obviously, you can’t get out if the vehicle is contaminated”.
What are the interventions that you remember to be the most intense during this period?
“Good question, and a difficult one. A couple have stuck with me over the past 40-45 days. One with positive results, because seeing a young man of 35 years of age so tired and sore in all parts of his body after a week of pneumonia and high fever, despite being very physically strong, really affected me. You could see that he was in a lot of pain. The operations center had proposed to continue with home therapy, but he asked to be taken to the hospital because he couldn’t take it anymore. Fortunately, he had a positive outcome, but this remains a symbolic episode of the entire situation”.
What, unfortunately, was the episode that had a negative outcome?
“We intervened with a person of not even 60 years of age who had respiratory problems that resulted in respiratory (and then cardiac) arrest. The situation deteriorated quite quickly and, despite the arrival of Advanced 1 “attended by a Nurse” and Advanced 2, so even with a resuscitating Doctor, we were not able to handle it. Unfortunately, in spite of the three vehicles, five people with harnesses and almost an hour of cardiac massage, we were not able to resuscitate the patient and save his life”.
What’s the current situation in the area where you operate — one of the hardest hit Red Zones in Italy?
“It’s improving significantly and our trips out have decreased. I’m back from two shifts (Saturday April 18th and Sunday April 19th), and we made a non-COVID Code Green intervention. Last Thursday was the last patient affected by COVID-19. I also notice a significant decrease in pressure on the emergency room; less waiting time (now practically zero), and the emergency rooms are much less crowded. Let’s just say that it’s a considerable improvement, fortunately”.
What message do you want to send to our readers?
“I want to say that you should all have confidence and peace of mind. The facilities are prepared and the emergency rooms are much freer. There are almost in all the hospitals two separate entrances for COVID and non-COVID — for greater safety. The staff is ready and prepared, and we’re all equipped with the necessary tools to provide the best possible care for patients. Even though the situation is improving, we’re not letting go; we won’t let our guard down, and we respect the Government’s provisions — both for you and for us. As our organization’s motto says, “help us to help you”. And, again, we have faith. We’re going to make it!”
Thank you again for everything you’re doing!
This post is also available in: Italiano