The story of Stefano (Italy)

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Red Cross volunteer and consultant

This is the background to the story of Stefano, a Deloitte consultant and volunteer of the Italian Red Cross, who in recent weeks has entered into the heart of the action, combining his work in the company with shifts as a rescuer for a Covid ambulance operating in the Bergamo area, the area most affected by the virus. An experience that marked and hardened him and that he wanted to tell us about through his precious point of view.

Hi Stefano, would you like to tell us about your experience as a Red Cross Volunteer?

I became a member of the Grandate Committee of the Italian Red Cross about ten years ago and since then I have always participated both in the life of the association and in all the activities that the Italian Red Cross carries out in the area. Due to the epidemiological emergency caused by Covid-19, which mainly involved the Lombardy Region, the Italian Red Cross immediately took action to provide an immediate response both at a health and welfare level for the most fragile segments of the population. I, as well as other volunteer colleagues from my Committee, were assigned from 27 March to 12 April, as rescuers for an additional Covid ambulance, in support of the others operating in the Bergamo area.

For me, it was an honour to be able to carry out this service because I was able to experience first-hand the humanity, strength and kindness of a people who, although tormented by the Corona Virus, were almost ashamed to ask for help: every time we entered a patient’s home, the patient and his relatives would ask us to apologise for the inconvenience.

It was really difficult for us to make everything seem normal, considering that our presence and empathy was sterilised by a white biological containment suit that completely enveloped us, protective masks, goggles, socks and three pairs of gloves. Not being able to look the patient in the eye and smile at him in such delicate situations is truly disarming. There were also some nice surprises, such as some children who brought us ambulances they made out of Lego, or the nickname they gave us ‘White Globules’, because in their eyes we were the ones defending them and we were, like in the famous cartoon, all dressed in white.

You are volunteering your time for the common good, what do you advise your colleagues to do to help in the emergency situation we are experiencing today? 

We are all contributing to the common good, from the medical and nursing staff to us Volunteers. The only advice I can give, besides asking us to respect all the instructions of the competent authorities, is not to let our guard down, to keep fighting and to resist, because we will all come out of this crisis, together and united. 

I understand that having to stay cooped up at home is difficult, stressful and wearing, but it is the only weapon we have today. Our National President has defined this emergency as ‘a contemporary Solferino’ (a fundamental event in the birth of the International Red Cross Movement) where everyone is called upon to contribute, never forgetting that any gesture can make a difference. And it is also for this reason that I feel close to all the Volunteers who work on the ground every day, and to the families of the Italian Red Cross Colleagues who have fought with us, for us, and who are now no longer with us. To our Italian Red Cross Colleagues who did not make it, goes our thanks and gratitude.

You said you worked shifts, what is a typical shift like?

The day was divided into two shifts: the day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the night, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Since Bergamo is relatively close to our headquarters, we decided to go home at the end of every shift. We would be at the headquarters about an hour and a half before our assigned shift, take the vehicle and drive to the duty station. Since there was no space to be housed in the local Red Cross committees, we had found a makeshift accommodation, where we slept and ‘lived’, at the library of the municipality of Paladina.

Before taking up duty, we did the handover with the Colleagues who were dismounting from the previous shift, after which we prepared the self-protection material, cleaned the ambulance in order to sanitise the interior, and checked all the material present. Once this preparatory phase was over, we were fully operational. The activation of our interventions took place via the EmmaWeb platform, i.e. via a smartphone on which the mission was sent by the Operations Centre, with details of the caller, the reason for the call and other health notes. When the centre was aware that the patient was a Covid positive, it would call us to say “Guys, Covid positive, get dressed and good work!”. Words that always made our blood run cold, but helped us to focus and concentrate on the objective.

Dressing took more than a dozen minutes due to the many items of equipment to be worn: full Tyvek suit, footwear, hair cap, FFP2 mask, visor or mask and three pairs of gloves, all with continuous hand disinfection. Once the operation was over, depending on the type of patient being rescued, we were first undressed, which again took about ten minutes, and then the ambulance was sanitised using special equipment.

Faced with this beautiful example of humanity and courage, we can only reflect on how much this situation is testing us, but also bringing out the best that each of us can offer the world. Stefano is showing us that with willpower and the will to do good, one can do so much, and for this we can only feel proud and close to him.