Kannadiga fights on as Italy sees dance of death

COVID-19: Kannadiga fights on as Italy sees dance of death

Madhu Hemegowda

He saw three elderly patients die in a span of an hour during his last shift.

And as Madhu Hemegowda prepares for another 12-hour shift at the Covid-19 ward of a hospital in northern Italy, he knows that at least two or three of the 30 patients that he and his colleagues tend to may succumb by the time they are relieved for the day.

“We have been witnessing at least two or three deaths daily,” says the 34-year-old. “Death is now so normal around us,” he sighs.

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Hemegowda is from Chikkamagaluru but his family is now based in Tumakuru. He graduated from the Government College of Nursing in Bengaluru in 2007 and has been living in Italy for almost 10 years now, working as a nurse in hospitals in and around Milan. After the Covid-19 started ravaging the southern European nation early February, he was shifted to the Rivoli Public Hospital in Turin, nearly 140 km away.

He and his colleagues at the isolation ward of the hospital have been witnessing no less than a nightmare over the past few weeks. “We have 30 beds in our ward and all are almost continuously occupied. If a bed gets vacant — more often for a death than a discharge — it gets reoccupied within an hour or two,” he told DH over phone from Turin.

With over 53,570 people being infected by the virus as on Sunday, Italy is now the worst Covid-19-affected country outside China.

No time to mourn

But the dance of death around him no longer rattles Hemegowda. There is no time for him even to take a pause and mourn for someone he could not save. The moment the monitor shows a steady line declaring yet another death, it’s time for him to put the ventilator on someone else who could be saved.

“An 82-year-old infected woman was brought to our ward a few days ago. Her son and daughter, who live in the United States, kept calling me, regularly enquiring about her condition. They could not come due to travel restrictions,” recalls Hemegowda. “Finally, she succumbed and I had to tell her son and daughter that we could not save her. All that they could do for her was to call an agency here and arrange for her funeral.”

With its healthcare system already overburdened, the Italian government is now hospitalising only critically-ill patients. The ones with relatively milder symptoms are being quarantined and treated at home.

“Still, we see a steady stream of patients coming in,” says Hemegowda, who has a postgraduate degree in Clinical Research from the Sikkim Manipal University.

Being the president of the Italy Kannada Association, he recently coordinated with the Embassy of India in Rome and helped some Indian students return by the special Air India aircraft.

He and his microbiologist wife Sanjana, however, chose to stay back. “Many Italian healthcare professionals took leave to avoid exposing themselves to the virus. But I did not. Somebody has to be there to help. Isn’t it?”

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