A bicycle ride, a smart watch (one of those that, as they’d say in Florence, “can even beat eggs”) and above all, a competent and timely cardiologist probably saved my life last week. Today, I will tell you this very personal story only because I seriously believe that it can save other people’s lives. I also wish to thank those who have been saving those very lives every day, away from the spotlight and, sometimes, without even hearing a ‘thank you’.
One of the many reasons why I was waiting for the start of ‘Phase 2’ was so that I could resume my early morning bike rides along country roads; riding up an embankment, discovering a small church, on the snare boards of a pontoon bridge. Law-abiding as I am, I was riding without my fellow bikers Babie and Gio, with the unavowed intention of rejoining them when the time would come, in decent shape and without being too much of a drag on them. But after just less than a kilometer, I experienced severe and oppressive chest pain. My I-Watch showed an accelerated and abnormal heartbeat and alerted me to consult a doctor.
I immediately called Marco Aroldi, my trusted cardiologist, who, after a careful analysis of the symptoms, and taking into consideration my family history, ordered hospitalization for tests despite my reluctance. Clinical tests confirmed the cardiologist’s early diagnosis and suggested immediate vascular microsurgery, that was subsequently performed successfully. The professionalism and competence of Dr. Marco Aroldi, his colleagues and all the extraordinary staff of the Cardiology Department of the Carlo Poma Hospital in Mantua, directed by Professor Corrado Lettieri, probably saved my life.
The thing that struck me most in the few days of my hospitalization was the staff’s attitude towards the patients. I had feared that the Covid19 emergency and the additional stress from overwork might have made everyone tense and irritable; instead, I found myself in a place in which–behind the protective devices that prevented us from seeing faces and smiles– I felt that anyone who attended us at our bedside did so with all of themselves and gave us the time needed not only to check on us and treat us, but also to listen to us, understand our fears and perhaps even play them down with a joke.
When I was hospitalized Dr. Aroldi mentioned a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (April 29, 2020) that reports a 58% increase of deaths from cardiac arrest outside hospitals during this emergency period in the provinces of Pavia, Cremona, Lodi and Mantua. In fact, it seems that many people, for fear of contracting the coronavirus, neglect severe oppressive chest pain and other cardiovascular symptoms. This psychological factor, combined with the forced sedentary lifestyle of these months and a diet determined more by providing comfort than by nutritional needs, is probably the reason for this increase in deaths.
I am fine now, as I am spending my convalescence at home, but I would like to close with a simple and clear message to all readers based on my adventure. Do not underestimate cardiac or other symptoms, and make sure to seek adequate medical care despite the Covid19 emergency. Italian hospitals are able to assist and treat us containing the risk of infection. Even in these moments of extreme tension you will find competent and empathetic professionals who deserve all our gratitude and respect.