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Bruised, Chafed, and Unable to Use the Bathroom: Italian Nurses Respond to the Virus


The entire nation of Italy is on lockdown due to the spread of the coronavirus. Major businesses are closed, all non-essential travel has been banned, and citizens are being asked to stay home until further notice. The growing pandemic has killed over 800 people in the country, with over 12,000 reported cases. Italian nurses are working around the clock to treat and contain those infected with the virus. The country’s healthcare system is reaching a breaking point as supplies run low and providers work for hours on end.

An Italian nurse, Alessia Bonari, recently shared her story on Instagram of what it’s like to respond to the virus. Learn more about the country’s response to the pandemic and how it’s affecting providers on the ground.

A Viral Photo Says It All

Alessia Bonari is a proud nurse, but she had a very clear message for her followers when she shared an image of what it’s like to be on the front lines of the coronavirus this week. The photo shows her at work at an Italian hospital in a pair of scrubs; her face is bruised, chafed, and lined with red marks due to facemasks that don’t fit.

As she wrote in the caption, “I am physically tired because the protective devices are bad, the lab coat makes me sweat, and once dressed, I can no longer go to the bathroom or drink for six hours.” The photo already has over 800,000 “likes” as dozens of users continue to share Bonari’s story.

Having access to the right medical supplies isn’t just about keeping nurses and providers comfortable on the job; it’s about workplace safety and preventing the spread of infection. Bonari went on to say, “I’m afraid because the mask may not adhere well to my face, or I may have accidentally touched myself with dirty gloves, or maybe the lenses do not completely cover my eyes and something may have passed.”

Bonari isn’t just worried about getting infected, she’s also worried about unintentionally passing the virus onto her patients, or even bringing it home and passing it on to her loved ones.

In addition to sharing her story, she encouraged anyone reading her post to adhere to the country’s aggressive containment policies to prevent the spread of infection. She writes, “What I ask anyone who is reading this post is not to frustrate the effort we are making, to be selfless, to stay at home and thus protect those who are most fragile.”

If the virus continues to infect more patients, the country’s healthcare system could reach an impasse. Those with non-life-threatening flu-like symptoms may also overwhelm the system if they decide to go to the hospital. There are only so many beds available for patients and a surge in demand would only make matters worse.

Checking in on the Italian Healthcare System

The situation is looking increasingly dire across the nation of Italy. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte recently told citizens to stay at home as much as possible. They are only allowed to travel if they have police permission. He also announced on Wednesday night that all businesses apart from grocery stores, pharmacies, and shops selling “essential” goods must be shut. As you might imagine, Venice, Mulan, and Rome are starting to look more like ghost towns than thriving tourist attractions.

With over 12,000 confirmed cases and one of the highest death tolls in the world, the Italian healthcare system is on its last leg. Healthcare workers are being asked to work extremely long shifts, while facing a shortage of equipment and supplies. With a limited number of beds, nurses are also being asked to prioritize patients they believe they have a better chance of saving.

Italy is a fairly small nation compared to the U.S., China, and other virus hotspots. It simply doesn’t have the resources to treat so many infected patients. The virus seems to be most severe in elderly patients and those with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and lung disease. Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world, which means a large majority of infections could be life threatening. Currently, the average age of the Italian population is 45.4 years, while the average age in the U.S. is just 38.2.

Hospitals and healthcare centers are being forced to turn patients away if they can’t be saved or their symptoms aren’t serious enough to warrant admission, treatment, or testing. Hopefully, the country’s travel restrictions will slow the spread of the virus, so the healthcare system can keep pace with demand.

We applaud Bonari for sharing her story on social media. It’s just another reminder of how serious this outbreak can be and how it’s affecting healthcare providers all over the world.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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