The scenes from inside the hospital on Italy’s Frontline: A Doctor’s Diary (BBC Two) were grim, of course. We are well-used to them now: doctors on the brink of exhaustion, both physical and emotional; patients struggling for survival. But it was the home scenes in this intimate documentary that brought you up short.
One set in particular: Dr Laura Bocchi, a doctor at the hospital in Cremona, northern Italy, tested positive for Covid and went into isolation. She had to quarantine in a bedroom while her husband and son remained on the other side of the door. To keep family life going, they ate while sitting on either side of that door, huddled on the floor with bowls of pasta. Sometimes mother and son would lay their palms on opposite sides of the glass, the closest they could get to physical contact. At one point, Bocchi rang her friend and colleague, Dr Francesca Mangiatordi, pleading for permission to step out of the room in mask and gloves, in order to hug her little family. Mangiatordi talked her out of it.
Mangiatordi was at the centre of the documentary, an A&E doctor with a gift for evocative language. “A month has passed and it feels like an eternity. But it could just as easily be an hour, a day, since it started,” she said in one of her video diaries, as the pandemic took hold. There were no available beds; patients lined the corridors on stretchers. The hospital was overwhelmed by the numbers of people needing oxygen “as though they were continually drowning”.