During the two past months Bergamo has been globally deemed one of the most harshly hit cities in Italy by coronavirus. What has never been told is how resilient and sympathetic Bergamo’s people are proving to be.
Enzo Angeli, head of the radiology department at Humanitas Gavazzeni in Bergamo, has been struggling with pneumonia cases since the end of February, when the pandemic started to spread.
He tells me: “We would have never imagined such a heartbreaking period, with so many deaths. However, each of us can contribute as much as possible to be useful for their community. You don’t have to be a doctor or health worker to help out.”
This is exactly what 26-year-old architecture student Chiara has learned since Bergamo’s hospitals were overwhelmed by covid-19 patients.
She says: “I felt I owed it to myself to be available wherever I could. I have worked for a while in local ATS (public health agency), which also provides call centre services for citizens.
“Many people need psychological support. One guy called crying because he didn’t know what to do with his mother’s corpse in the house. It was terrible.”
Three weeks ago funeral homes were struggling to find places to cremate the dead so the military had to take action to remove hundreds of coffins. It is another painful picture of all Bergamo has been through.
Moments like this are unlikely to be forgotten by Martina Angeli, Enzo’s daughter and a doctor in Val Brembana, a valley in the north of Bergamo district.
She says: “I’m part of a task force (USCA) committed to treating coronavirus patients at home. There have been nights when we’ve received five or six calls simultaneously. At the beginning it was risky because we didn’t have enough of the right medical equipment.”
In the absence of masks, gloves or medical scrubs, health workers have become like soldiers without guns.
Martina says: “In the first days of this ‘storm’ I visited many patients without the correct protection and I probably caught the virus. I’m pretty sure I have been infected despite only having mild symptoms such as coughing for the past three weeks.”
The Italian healthcare system wasn’t prepared for this highly contagious pandemic, which is why Martina and all other health workers are being celebrated like heroes. The death toll of doctors amounts to more than 100 victims and counting.
You sense genuine pride in Laura Angeli’s voice as she talks about her daughters Martina and Chiara.
She says: “It’s merely how Enzo and I have tried to raise our kids. I am so proud of what they have been doing for Bergamo’s people. I think we are going to get through this emergency if we do it together, helping each other.”
Laura, 62, runs a cosy guest house in Bergamo and decided to welcome health workers seeking accommodation. She says: “Because of the lack of tourism, I thought I would make a contribution in my own way.”
A young head nurse has spent a month in Laura’s guest house after moving to Bergamo from another region. He is working in Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital with Enzo.
The Angeli family’s reactions might be defined as “Bergamo toughness”. That mentality of its citizens makes Laura proud. On 1 April, a new hospital with dozens of intensive and sub-intensive care beds opened. It was built in only ten days by the Alpine corps and fans of the Atalanta football team.
Gavazzeni hospital, once packed with covid-19 patients, is now seeing the pressure ease.
Enzo says: “Things are getting slightly better. During the peak, we had 90% of beds dedicated to coronavirus patients as we made a remarkable reorganisation. The number of sick people entering the emergency room has been lowering, that’s significant.”
As a precautionary measure, Enzo has been self-isolating for two weeks. He says: “My fever was 39 degrees but soon after testing negative I came back to the front line.”
Laura adds: “Perhaps unconsciously I was never scared by his flu. I just started sleeping in another room for a while.”
Thanks to the spirit of the Angeli family and many like them in Bergamo, the city is paying its respect for the dead who fell in battle against the virus. It will rise again, as it always has.
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