The Norwegian health team in Italy faces a bleak reality: “The seriousness of the situation has affected us”

Bolognini, ItalyBolognini, Italy.Photo: NOR Emergency Medical Team / DSB / NTB scanpix

The Norwegian medical team that went to Bergamo last week is impressed by how Italian health workers have handled the coronavirus crisis. But the gravity of the task weighs heavily on them.

“We are taking home with us the great seriousness of the circumstances and about how we can handle a similar situation in Norway,” said team chief Guttorm Brattebø from Helse Bergen. He spoke to NTB on the telephone from Bergamo in Northern Italy.

The city, with more than 120,000 inhabitants, is located in the Lombardy region. It is among the areas in the world most severely affected by the coronavirus 

Many Norwegians have seen the TV pictures from Italy, where doctors and nurses run between dying patients. So far, nearly 19,500 people have died in Italy, while just over 150,000 have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Incredibly grateful
On Wednesday last week, the Bergamo health team arrived to help, one week after Italian health authorities requested assistance.

“We came to an Italy that is very different from what we are used to. Everything is completely shut down and everyone out there has to use a  face mask. The situation is quite unreal,” said Brattebø.

The team, comprising 16 nurses and doctors, as well as three people from the Civil Defence, is similar to the one that Norway sent to both the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Ebola outbreak last year and to Samoa during the measles outbreak.

“They are incredibly grateful for help. We feel we are contributing,” said Brattebø.

The team is now working at the main hospital Bolognini di Seriate outside Bergamo, which has been converted into a hospital for the most severely ill patients.

The hospital has 700 beds and usually has between seven and nine patients on the respirator. On Sunday, 22 patients were on the respirator,” said Brattebø.

He was impressed with how his Italian colleagues have handled the situation, but added they have been affected by the severe work pressure over the past month.

“In relation to the number of patients and what they have been exposed to, it is impressive what they have managed to endure. All of our colleagues here know someone who has died. They know the risk. Still, they stand up and come back to work, even though they know they can be infected,“ explained Brattebø.

At least 100 Italian doctors have lost their lives in the pandemic, according to the Italian Medical Association.

Need to think about preparedness
The chief physician also pointed out that the hospital was flooded by patients without having had time to prepare.

“Seeing how the system has had to improvise has been a useful experience. But being on the alert and thinking about preparedness is paramount,” said Brattebø.

The Norwegian team has daily meetings with the management at the hospital. The crisis is easing somewhat, with a decline in the number of new infected cases and the number of deaths.

“But there are still patients who die,” said Brattebø.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today


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