Stretchers fill the corridors, oxygen tanks are in short supply and patients die alone without a last word from their loved ones. This is the scene inside a hard-hit hospital in Cremona, northern Italy, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year.
This hour-long documentary, by award winning director Sasha Joelle Achilli, gives an unprecedented and intimate insight into three months of life on the Covid frontline with A&E doctor, Francesca Mangiatordi.
In the early days of the outbreak the hospital is overflowing, she works gruelling 12-hour shifts, caring for the vulnerable who have been most affected by Covid-19. Due to a lack of life-saving equipment she faces the traumatising task of prioritising which lives to try to save. There are not enough beds for everyone.
At home, Francesca is fearful of infecting her husband, who suffers from a respiratory condition. She hasn’t touched him, or her children, for more than a month. Her children struggle with life in lockdown – at the same time proud of their mother for her work, but fearful that she might bring the virus home.
A month into the outbreak, Dr Francesca and her colleagues notice a disturbing new trend: it’s not just the old and vulnerable who are getting ill. Mattia is 18 years old. He is brought into hospital fighting for his life, as the disease engulfs his lungs. Since his mother cannot visit, the doctors and nurses adopt him almost as their own son. However, after checking his scans, they are not optimistic about his chances of survival.
One by one, Francesca’s colleagues at the hospital succumb to the virus. One of Francesca’s closest friends, Dr Laura Bocchi, starts to experience symptoms on the A&E ward and is forced to quarantine after testing positive. She must isolate alone, communicating with her son and husband from behind a glass door. Her medical knowledge – and what she’s witnessed treating other Covid patients – only make her more fearful about the course the illness might take in her own body.
As new cases begin to decrease, doctors who were infected go back to work and embrace their colleagues. But as Italy lifts its strict lockdown, Francesca worries that it may be too soon – and that a devastating second wave could.
Italy’s Frontline: A Doctor’s Diary – Monday at 9.00pm on BBC Two.