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April 1, 2020, 2:46 p.m. EDT

‘This looks like operating in a war zone’: Italian doctor who treated Italy’s ‘Patient 1’ battles to save lives from coronavirus

‘We lose almost 4 pounds every day after every shift,’ says Roberto Rizzardi, the doctor who has run the emergency room of San Matteo hospital in Pavia for 25 years

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By Maria Teresa Santaguida


Getty Images
Nurses put on their personal protective equipment before a shift last month in the intensive-care unit in a new COVID-19 hospital in Verduno, Italy.

Roberto Rizzardi is a doctor who has been running the emergency room of San Matteo hospital, in Pavia, 25 miles south of Milan, for 25 years. He has been catapulted onto the front line of the ‘war’ against coronavirus — this is his story.

It all started when the man widely believed to be Italy’s “ Patient 1 ” was carried from the small town of Lodi, on the western bank of the River Adda, in Lombardy, to Policlinico San Matteo. His condition had rapidly deteriorated due to pneumonia.

“As an emergency doctor, I’m used to facing critical situations that rapidly get worse,” Dr. Roberto Rizzardi, who has run the hospital’s ER for a quarter-century, told MarketWatch. “My experience in Africa has taught me how to keep calm in extreme times. But I would never have imagined seeing it here.”

‘My experience in Africa has taught me how to keep calm in extreme times. But I would never have imagined seeing it here.’

Roberto Rizzardi, the doctor who’s run the ER of Italy’s San Matteo hospital, in Pavia, for 25 years

Beds and ventilators can be found in every corner of the hospital. Any space can be used to save a life.

Specialized wards have disappeared: Three levels of the entire building have been converted and dedicated to COVID-19 positive patients.

Physicians were forced to put their specializations aside.

“Everyone had to learn a new job very quickly: how to handle ventilators, how to read indicators on monitors, how to regulate pressure in breathing tubes. This looks like operating in a war zone,” Rizzardi said.

As one of the first who faced the tsunami of infection in Lombardy, northern Italy, Rizzardi had to rethink the space in his ward.

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He also had to face a lack of protective equipment and staff.

Those lucky enough to find some gear “had to get used to wearing a protective suit, and working with all of the equipment on,” he said.

“When even your face is covered with a mask and a visor, you are not able to eat, drink or even go to the toilet for several hours. Actually even hunger and thirst are set aside,” he said, adding that everyone is exhausted. “We lose almost 4 pounds every day after every shift.”

‘When even your face is covered with a mask and a visor, you are not able to eat, drink or even go to the toilet for several hours.’

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