'I'm just doing my job': On call with Italy's coronavirus doctors treating patients at home

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'I'm just doing my job': On call with Italy's coronavirus doctors treating patients at home
Medical staff prepare to visit patients at home in the Lombardy region. All photos: AFP

With many coronavirus patients being sent home from Italy's overloaded hospitals, a special medical unit has trained doctors to treat them at home.


Doctors in protective gear are buzzed into an apartment in northern Italy where an elderly coronavirus patient lies curled up in bed, having been unable to find a place in the overcrowded hospitals.

New special units dubbed USCAs are carrying out home visits in Bergamo, one of the cities worst hit by the epidemic that has so far killed officially more than 13,000 people nationwide, with many more feared to be dying of the virus at home.

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Doctor Monica Pagani stoops to attach a pulse oximeter to the patient's finger and test her oxygen levels, as the woman stares up at a picture of the Madonna and child hanging over the bed.

"Is she eating and drinking?" she asks the patient's daughter, gently pulling back the flower-patterned bed cover and raising the woman to a sitting position in order to listen to her lungs and take her blood pressure.

The 32-year old is wearing a protective suit, gloves, mask and glasses, but the risk of catching the virus - and spreading it around - is still very real.

"When we visit the patient, we focus on them and the fear of catching it (from them) passes," Pagani told AFP, wisps of her curly hair caught in the straps of her mask.

"We try to reassure them. Relatives and patients are always happy to see us," she said.

An oxygenator stands in the corner of the room, under a white crucifix on the wall.



On the wooden chest of drawers, overflowing with framed photographs of loved ones, perches a spray bottle of alcohol-based cleaning fluid.

"These doctors already work in first-aid stations so they have the right kind of experience," said medical director Roberto Moretti, adding that they were also trained by GPs who had experience in house calls.

Pagani zips up her doctor's bag, ready to head off with her colleague on the next house call.

"I don't feel like a hero, but like a normal person who's just doing her job," she said.

Italy has recorded 110,574 cases of COVID-19 infection since the outbrak began at the end of February, from which nearly 17,000 have recovered.


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