Italy: ”I let go of my anger at work”
After a tough first wave - and an even tougher second - the fight for Italian nurse Elena Cennoma today is largely about vaccination. Almost all her covid patients are unvaccinated, and for healthcare professionals it is a question of getting the injection or being sent home.
“It was nice of course to see all the people standing on balconies during the lock-down and applauding to show their gratitude to us at the beginning of the pandemic. But it also felt strange. Now that we’re working with covid, we’re suddenly heroes. But we weren’t before? Actually, we’re not doing much that we don’t usually do. We’re saving lives.
At first, we weren’t going to get any extra compensation from the state for working during the pandemic, but the union fought for it, and eventually those of us who work with infectious diseases got a bonus. I received SEK 4,000 for five months, but I’ve been working with covid care for longer than that.
I got my first job at a hospital on the 1 April 2020, and I was thrown straight into covid care. Before that I had worked in an ambulance and at a private clinic in Rome. Now I was supposed to work with high flow treatment and respirators. At first, I was terrified of getting infected, but I calmed down after a couple of weeks. I felt safe in the protective equipment. Now I feel unprotected when I work with non-covid patients and only have a face mask. I still haven’t had covid-19 myself, but several colleagues have.
Workplace: Infection and Lung Ward at San Donato Hospital, Arezzo, Italy.
Salary: Approximately SEK 23 647 per month, depending on hours and overtime.
Qualifications: Registered nurse, bachelor's and master's degrees. A total of five years of university studies.
The second wave was the hardest. It lasted from October 2020 to June 2021. It felt like it would never end. We couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. For a while, we had 120–130 covid patients at the same time, across four wards. It was very difficult. Everything happened suddenly. We needed to open new wards. The patients were moved around. The virus was extremely aggressive, and the patients became very, very ill. I was tired and stressed. It was a difficult situation, but we colleagues helped each other. We took strength from each other. That made us believe that things would be fine. The pandemic has made us a strong team. I have gained experience and learned a lot. But the pandemic has not changed my view of the profession. It’s always been my dream job. I love being a nurse.
Almost everyone who comes to us with covid-19 is unvaccinated. Personally, I’m angry at those who don’t get vaccinated, but I don’t think about that at work. Then, the people are just patients who need help, and I want to help them.
Italy started vaccinating certain groups on 26 December 2020. I received my first dose on 1 January. There is a law about vaccine passes at all workplaces. Those who don’t get vaccinated will have no job and salary until they get vaccinated. I think that’s right for us in healthcare. We nurses should have a scientific attitude. If you are against vaccines, you are against research and science. It’s controversial. It doesn’t make sense for us not to get vaccinated. Also, we should protect ourselves and those we work with.”
Interviewer: Madeleine Andersson
Corona in Italy
Cases: 4 665 049
Deaths: 130 807
Fully vaccinated: 67,6%
Source: Johns Hopkins University and Ourworldindata, 30 September 2021.