AP PHOTOS: For Milan nurse, patients with viruses enter the soul – ABOUT MAG 2020


MILAN (AP) – Coronavirus brings forced isolation: family members cannot visit hospitalized patients. Nursing homes close their doors to outsiders. People with mild cases or who have been in contact with infected people should remain in quarantine.

Cristina Settembrese spends her days caring for patients with COVID-19 in a hospital ward, and when she returns home, her personal isolation begins with her own choice.

The 54-year-old woman has been a nurse since she was 18. Two months ago, the infectious disease ward where he works at the San Paolo Hospital in Milan started treating only patients with COVID-19. Suddenly, she had to learn to operate machines that she likens to “helmets” to help patients breathe. She studied the operating instructions at home, in a kind of self-taught course.

Although patients with coronavirus often experience mild or moderate symptoms, possible complications such as pneumonia can be life-threatening.

Two days after Italy’s first confirmed case in late February, Settembrese sent his 24-year-old daughter, Rebecca, from her home in Milan’s Basiglio suburb to live with her sister. The nurse was concerned that she might inadvertently infect her daughter.

She talks to Rebecca, who leans on a balcony on the first floor whenever Settembrese can pass. A single mother, her only companion now in her apartment is her Chihuahua, Pepe, who takes a fake leopard fur coat for a walk.

On the way to the hospital, five miles away, Settembrese stops at his parents’ bakery. From the sidewalk, Settembrese waves his mother with a gloved hand. Her mother makes treats for her co-workers, including a casatiello, a type of bread braided with eggs and salami, which is a specialty of Naples, her parents’ homeland.

Walking with Pepe and talking to other dog owners from a safe distance “is my only social life,” says Settembrese. The northern region of Lombardy is the region of Italy with the most cases and deaths in the country.

But Settembrese talks about her new family – her patients and colleagues – with whom she has bonded in recent weeks.

Patients “live life alone. Sometimes they die alone, ” says Settembrese.

Before leaving work overnight, she analyzes with her colleagues how patients are doing. Not just how well they are breathing, but they feel angry or upset because relatives died from COVID-19.

Once out of service, nurses call to ask how patients are doing.

“We feel like we are their family,” says Settembrese. “They are patients who enter your soul.”


Frances D´Emilio reported from Rome.


This is the second in a three-part series that examines frontline medical personnel at work and at home in Italy.


Follow the pandemic coverage by AP in http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Paula Fonseca