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A Disturbing Look Inside an Italian Hospital

Mar 26, 2020 | 831 videos
Video by Olmo Parenti

On March 24, filmmaker Olmo Parenti went inside Milan’s Polyclinic, one of the major hospitals fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. All 900 beds were occupied with patients suffering from complications of the virus. There were older patients struggling to breathe on ventilators, Parenti told me. He saw many younger people, too—patients in their 30s and 40s, lying in bed alone “with teary and fearful eyes.”

Parenti’s short documentary, Coronavirus From One Meter Away, is difficult to watch. “I wanted to capture the painful reality of seeing this virus in action,” he said. Parenti filmed many patients in extreme close-ups. “When you’re three feet away from a patient, you see all the tiny things that speak so loudly about the pain and struggle they are going through,” he continued. “You see feet shivering because of the high fevers. You see mouths panting under an oxygen mask even while the patient is asleep. You see the hunger for air in their chests.”

During the day he spent in the hospital, Parenti spoke to dozens of doctors and nurses. Many of them expressed a similar sentiment. “One sentence I kept hearing from everyone I spoke to was that while machines are definitely helpful and necessary, people are what you need most to cure other people.”

Parenti has renewed reverence for these health-care workers after witnessing the personal sacrifices they made firsthand. “They have to gear up with several layers of protection once they begin working in the COVID-19 sections of the hospital,” he said, “so after they dress up, they can’t eat, drink, or even go to the bathroom for the following eight to 10 hours. They are going through hell in there, but they might honestly be tougher than hell itself.”

On the day of Parenti’s visit, Italy’s death toll had risen by 743 people in 24 hours. As of today, March 26, 7,503 people have died of COVID-19 in the country, with 74,386 still infected.

“Seeing people one step away from dying kills a little part of you,” Parenti said, “even when you don’t know anything about them.”

For more, watch Parenti’s video “10 Days Later: What Italians Wish They Had Known.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.