“The Sacco hospital is unrecognizable: It has been transformed into an emergency hospital. Doctors and nurses are making incredible sacrifices, and I am supporting them as much as I can. Looking down the halls one immediately understands that the coronavirus is not a joke or an opportunity to make a comical hashtag.” Those fighting this epidemic on the front lines of one of the most specialized hospitals of Milan are not only doctors, nurses, and medical staff. Giovanni Musazzi, chaplain of the hospital since 2018 (together with Fr. Mauro Carnelli), is there fighting every day, even in the “off-limit” wards, to nourish faith and hope. “This virus really puts us to the test, breaking the Milanese obsession with scheduling and efficiency,” said Giovanni, priest of the Fraternity of St. Charles, to the journalist from Tempi magazine.
During these weeks of emergency, what is the situation in the hospital?
The hospital is unrecognizable. Almost all the wards have been transformed to accommodate the patients who are affected by the virus. There is an area for the infected, where the most seriously ill are, and another area for those in isolation and quarantine. Thankfully, there is an amazing staff here, professionals who make enormous sacrifices.
Are the doctors able to handle the work load?
With fatigue. Their shifts are 12-13 hours long, days off are practically non-existent, their vacations have all been cancelled. And yet, no one is complaining, there is a strong sense of duty and self-denial. Some don’t even return home, afraid of possibly spreading the infection. Others find moments to play a little with their children, and sleep a few hours before coming back at the break of dawn to the hospital.
Did the hospital staff underestimate the danger of this virus?
Seen “from the inside,” society reacted with stupidity and superficiality. Especially during the first and second weeks; now however, everyone is beginning to understand that this is a serious epidemic. At first it was only a joke on Facebook and a hashtag, but this is no longer the case. But in the hospital, there wasn’t time for any of that.
In these last weeks, what has your work as a chaplain consisted of?
My daily work in this moment is primarily that of sustaining the doctors, asking how their families are doing, asking if they have eaten and slept. During the day, I decided to schedule two moments: from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. and from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. we always have two hours of Eucharistic Adoration in the church. People can enter in turns to pray a little. Also, the sick who can’t come know that in the chapel there is always someone praying for them and remembering them. Even if we can’t reach the patients, they know they are not abandoned.
You’re not allowed to meet any of the sick?
It is very difficult. Together with the doctors I am discovering ways of entering and meeting those in quarantine. Unfortunately, reaching them, speaking with them, bringing them Communion are not to be taken for granted. In the following days, perhaps in the next hours, I will go meet someone who has asked for the Sacraments, accompanied by a nurse.
Will you have to put on the scrubs and face mask?
Scrubs and face masks are the normality. I will have to take all the extra precautions that are now obligatory, rightly so, and be supervised by a doctor. Once inside, I will remain a few minutes then leave the room, following all the procedures for disinfecting.
The epidemic has overturned the hospital as well as the whole city.
Milan is obsessed with planning and scheduling. The people here live by the concept that everything is manageable and that it’s only a question of time and energy. With irony, Milanese often say: “I am my planner,” it’s the motto of many people. One’s very identity coincides with what he or she does, the people one sees, and the appointments one has. For their work, one sacrifices everything. Sometimes it’s a way of showing off, some boast about how busy they are. Now we see how fragile and short-lived this idol of busyness and control is. A virus was enough to turn it all into smoke. For some, this is the real tragedy, not the virus.
Because if someone identifies himself with what he does, when his business goes down the drain, he follows it. But there is also another reaction I am seeing. In the last weeks, I have seen many families having picnics in the parks with their children. In a world where it seems impossible to escape the business agenda, the possibility of rediscovering the family is important. I think we can learn something from living the drama of this epidemic. One is almost forced to. Maybe for the first time we will understand what Lent is, what conversion is: Using our freedom to adhere to the will of Another. At the beginning of Lent, how many people were enthusiastic about giving something up? Now they are struggling to stay in their own homes. We are enslaved by what we do, but the person with an open heart and mind will understand that God is taking him by the hand. We need to respond to reality and allow God, the Lord of history, to educate us through this moment. The question is: How do we want to occupy our time? Letting ourselves be educated, or just follow behind mindlessly?
How do you use your time?
In the same way I used it before the epidemic. I am in the hospital around eight hours a day. I actually have more time now because I am no longer able to make my usual rounds visiting the sick. To speak to the doctors for even a few minutes I have to go to the waiting room.
Are the doctors exhausted?
The medical staff don’t seem discouraged, only physically worn out. I would like to highlight the incredible work everyone in the hospital is doing, not just the doctors and nurses, but also the others working here. Many of their salaries barely pass one thousand euros a month, but at the break of dawn they are here keeping everything clean and ordered, even working in the infected quarters. Those who see them often ask how the patients are doing, or how things are going in the hospital. But they also have a need to be cared for. This is now my work.