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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Doctor reveals dying patients’ last calls

WARNING: Distressing content

A doctor in Italy's coronavirus epicentre has revealed the poignant moments patients dying from coronavirus beg to say goodbye to loved ones so they don't die alone.

"When they are about to die, they sense it," said Dr. Francesca Cortellaro, from the San Carlo Borromeo Hospital in Milan.

"Do you know what the most dramatic feeling is? See the patients die alone, listen to them while they beg you to greet their children and grandchildren," she told Milan's Italian language dailyIl Giornale.

Dr Cortellaro said coronavirus patients were conscious as they died, and begged to say goodbye to loved ones.

She has been working on Italy's COVID-19 frontline, the Lombardy region of which Milan is the capital, since the outbreak which has rapidly worsened.

She described the haunting final moments of those on their death beds as the European country's coronavirus toll jumped to 1266, soaring by 250 extra fatalities in just 24 hours.

"See the emergency room? COVID-19 patients enter alone, no relatives can attend," Dr Cortellaro said.

"They are lucid, they do not go into narcolepsy. It is as if they were drowning, but with all the time to understand it."

Paramedics inspect hazardous medical waste box as patients lie on camping beds in Lombardy’s makeshift A&E department. Picture: Luca Bruno.

Italy is battling the worst coronavirus outside of mainland China, with the total number of confirmed cases rising to 17,660 on Friday, up from 15,113 the day before.

Most of the infected Italians are elderly people, considered the most vulnerable to succumb to coronavirus.

Dr Cortellaro said often their only way to say goodbye to their loved ones was via a video phone call.

Describing the last patient to die before her on the same evening she spoke to Il Giornale, the doctor said the dying person was a grandmother who wanted to see her granddaughter.

"I pulled out the phone and called her on video," she said of one dying grandmother's request to see her granddaughter.

"They said goodbye. Soon after she was gone.

Hospital staff in Lombardy where Italy’s coronavirus outbreak is turning into ‘a tsunami’ doctors say. Picture: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse

"By now I have a long list of video calls. I call it a farewell list.

"I hope they give us iPad mini, three or four would be enough, not to make them die alone."

At the hospital where Dr Cortellaro works, medical staff say "the catastrophe is already here".

San Carlo Borromeo's head of resuscitation, Professor Stefano Muttini, described the situation as "a tsunami".

He has had to expand the hospital's eight bed resuscitation unit to 31 places.

But he described the burgeoning crisis as "a race against time … having to chase the emergency".

"Despite all the help that is guaranteed to us, this creates a considerable emotional stress," he said.

Medical personnel works inside one of the emergency structures that were set up to ease procedures outside Brescia hospital. Picture: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse

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