Disclaimer: All names, places and incidents are purely fictional. Please don’t be tempted to google and look for mistakes. Instead, the writer recommends doing Pranayama.
September 19, 2020
Dr. Roberto Fumagalli scrolled through the pictures of his granddaughter to keep his mind off the horrendous day he was about to face in the court. It had been months since he visited her. His daughter kept sending him pictures to keep his spirits up. She knew how much Roberto adored his grandchild.
He was ridiculously early to the court, for the Tribunale di Bergamo wore a deserted look. But, quarantine had been lifted only last week. People were still apprehensive about venturing out. He looked at the letter he received from the court asking him to be present for an inquiry. The criminal charge against him was that he had discriminated among his patients while treating them for a pandemic. It was leveled by the wife of a victim. The bizarre coincidence was that Victor Rosa, the victim who had died due to his alleged discrimination was one of his friends.
Roberto was a man of science. He had prepared well to defend himself, with documented proofs and supporting evidence. Yet, a forbidding doubt pricked. Intuition kept telling him that the day would not end well.
March 12, 2020
“Dr. Fumagalli, Patient in bed 3 is desaturating.” the nurse informed him over the phone.
He had just retired to his on-call room, after a grueling 36-hour shift, when the call came. He rushed to the make-shift Critical Care Unit set up for the isolated patients, at Pope John XX hospital, Bergamo. The patient in bed 3 was turning blue and he could see the nurses administering bronchodilators to ease the airway. Unfortunately, it was not helping.
The patient was still in respiratory distress.
“Get me a ventilator, stat”, Roberto called out.
Nurse Valerie, the head Critical Care Nurse, shook her head in anguish. She usually wasn’t the one to be rattled. She was as efficient in handling these critical patients as any doctor. But today, she looked helpless. There were no ventilators available. They were also short of N95 masks and PPE’s. Valerie had improvised a few protective aprons using clear vinyl sheets from the stationery department. The masks were washed in bleach and reused, the elastic so slackened that it had to be secured using safety pins.
As one of Roberto’s tired colleagues observed, without PPE’s, he felt very vulnerable.
“It feels like going to the battlefield in my undies” he said.
What would Valerie do now for a Ventilator? Clearly, she could not put together one using Office supplies.
This week had seen the highest number of the influx of patients, many requiring critical care. The numbers of infected cases were running in thousands now. An entire old age home had been infected, several of its inmates never living past the first few days of contracting the disease.
The most developed health care service in Italy was collapsing by the sheer enormity of numbers. A complete lockdown was announced in Lombardy last week. However, it was too late by then and the dominoes had been set in motion, already.
There were 17 patients under Roberto’s care, the majority of them on ventilator support.
“Give me the list the patients in this unit”, he asked Nurse Valerie.
He scanned the list.
The patient in bed 3 was a 38-year-old Caucasian male, admitted yesterday with high fever and cough. Today he had been shifted to the Critical care unit after developing pneumonitis.
Patient 14, 62-year caucasian male, bilateral pneumonitis and acute renal failure, the list read.
“Disconnect the ventilator from Patient 14, name Victor Rosa. Intubate and connect it to the patient in bed 3”, Roberto looked at Nurse Valerie.
“But, Roberto, It is Victor. Elena would never forgive you, ” Nurse Valerie was shocked.
He realized that indeed Elena would never forgive him. Elena Rosa, Victor’s wife was a dermatologist in Pope XX hospital. In fact, Victor and Roberto were from the same village and went to the same school, in the northern fringes of Italy.
“Would you rather I do it?”, Roberto was losing patience when the patient in bed 3 began to gasp in agony, for a gulp of air.
Nurse Valerie was torn between following the doctor’s orders and her conscience.
Roberto walked away without a word and returned with the ventilator. He swiftly intubated the patient in bed 3 and set the parameters in the machine. In the next few minutes, the patient’s vitals began to improve. The erratic breathing stabilized. Roberto was relieved. The patient in bed 3 might survive this.
He heard Nurse Valerie call him softly.
“Roberto, Victor flatlined”.
His heart cinched. He had made the toughest of choices and he had to deal with the guilt that came with it.
Damn! Why did his friend’s image flash in front of his eyes now? That stocky man with an impish smile, that boy with rosy cheeks and laughing eyes.
Misery engulfed him like a grey cloud. He needed to sleep. And he needed it now.
“Take care of the flatline formalities, Valerie and call me when I am needed. I am too drained”, he said and shuffled out of the Critical Care Unit.
September 19, 2020
The photos of his granddaughter kept moving up in his mobile, when he found, nestled in between her smiling face, a forwarded picture received sometime way back in March. He had forgotten all about it until now. It showed the Mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala declaring, “Milan doesn’t stop”.
Roberta snorted first and then chuckled a little. It escalated slowly into peals of agonizing laughter that refused to stop, loud and echoing, within the hollow walls of the courthouse.
He laughed like a mad man, like a doctor who had lived through a nightmare called Covid-19.
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