International charity workers heaved a sigh of relief when they packed a field hospital in one of the hardest hit areas in Italy – and returned home as honorary citizens in a city hit by the corona virus.
“I would definitely say it was a war,” said Bev Kauffeldt, leader of the Canadian team for Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical humanitarian organization that sent doctors, nurses and other medical staff to fight the pandemic in Cremona, in northern Lombardy.
Since March, the group, which consists of several Canadians, has treated nearly 300 patients from local hospitals in the city, where most other medical services have been suspended because of the pressure caused by coronaviruses at the facility.
“I think more than just liberators, we just came to, once again, support and only bring some kind of hope,” said Kauffedlt, who now lives in the U.S. “We lost 25 patients, but they were never alone.”
Kauffeldt had worked at the forefront of the Ebola crisis in Congo, and in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. He talked to As it happens host Carol Off about what she witnessed in Italy. This is part of their conversation.
Bev, after everything you’ve been through, how does it feel to pack your field hospital?
I think there is a sense of satisfaction and relief. Satisfaction that we came with a mission to support … Cremona Hospital, and we can do it. And the satisfaction of knowing that the disease here in Italy is at least going down.
We have to show that Italy, geez, [has] more than 30,000 deaths due to the corona virus. And where you are in Cremona, this is the heart of Lombardy, one of the most difficult parts of Europe. At what point did you realize that you have gone through a storm and now you can go home?
About … 10 days, two weeks ago, we have seen a significant decline in some numbers. Hospitals, you know, can support the patients they have, and we don’t get as much acceptance from them as before.
We meet with hospital administrators, directors, doctors there every day just to feel how they are. And they got to the point where they took out some of their patients and they could reopen some of their services like … their OR [operating room] or their cardiology unit, because they have had patients in every criminal … from their hospital for almost the last two months, since … mid-March.
What do you remember most about how it felt when your field hospital was running at full capacity?
I will remember two main things. The incredible love and acceptance we got from the Italians. The city of Cremona is going through something and we are all honorary citizens. Only extraordinary love we feel, and our patients are extraordinary, and their family members bring us food.
And I think I will remember my staff, only care 24/7. So that they, you know, love these people, care for them, and the professionalism that they show day after day, pray with patients, sing with patients.
But most important, be there and pray with them when they pass by. We did lose 25 patients, but they were never alone.
We talked with a number of medical officers, doctors and nurses in Italy all this time. That is one of the hardest things they face, is that family is not possible with those who are dying. And so they were, they were the last person to hold their hands, the last person to talk to them. What do you remember about that experience?
We have telephones in every environment where we can call family members and ask them FaceTime with their family members at those times. It is very important for us to establish a communication relationship with their family so they know that their family members are not alone, that they can say their last goodbyes, the last I love you.
Even patients who survived … that was something they talked about over and over – they had never felt themselves. They feel very loved.
You mentioned all the other ways that the community, that city gave you their gratitude. And there was a cellist who arrived one day. Can you tell us that story?
There is a violinist … playing at the top of the Cremona hospital, just playing beautiful and beautiful music. And our day shift and we can all participate in it. But our night shift passed about 15 minutes. And one of our Italian staff feels, you know, very bad.
There is actually a cellist right next to our hotel. And at night, sometimes you can hear him playing in the yard because, of course, he is locked. So we got special permission for him to come and bless our night shift staff around 9:30. He arranges and plays right in the middle of the ward, in the safe zone, for our staff and for our patients.
And that was just a very special moment. That night is sunny. The stars are all gone. And yes, I mean, we are in Cremona …. It is a violin house.
I understood that when he paid the cello, there were people who might have lost their lives in the tent, that that would be the last thing they heard.
Our night shift boss told me about it. And when I was there, I didn’t even notice, because, of course, my staff was in the ICU focused on their patients.
You will be an honorary citizen. I must say it reminds me of movements in Europe when Canadian troops will help liberate a city in the midst of war and then they will be honored that way. And it looks like you are a liberator, right?
Well, I would definitely say it’s war. And I think, you know, only the world itself is still very much in it.
I think more than liberators, we only come to, once again, support and only bring some kind of hope.
One Cremona hospital doctor said that they had asked, you know, all over Europe and the European Union and no one had actually taken it. [seriously] because, hey, this is Italy, that’s Lombardy. This is a very well-established Italian district.
And I remember sitting in Boone, North Carolina, with the project vice president, making calls to several government officials in Italy and, you know, they asked for support, and we said, “Yes, we can come and this is what we can do . “
In three days, we were there.
I think we surprised them. But again, just the gratitude they have shown us, it was just a very beautiful partnership.
Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
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