Coping With Coronavirus in Italy: A Mom Shares Her Story

Italy is in the eye of the COVID-19 storm. A mom who's there tells what it's been like for her family — and how they're keeping their wits and hopes strong.

Person in doctor's scrubs holding up a gloved hand in front of three quarantine signs

This past Saturday morning, my 6-year-old daughter woke up screaming “Mom!” because she had a bad dream. She dreamt that a child had the coronavirus on his hand and he touched my arm and I got sick. She was crying from fear, and it took me some time to calm her down and convince her that it was just a dream — and everything was OK.

Despite all of the videos for kids that we showed her about COVID-19, she is old enough to sense the fear of adults and understand what is being said on the news.

I am a Milan native; my husband is originally from metro Detroit. And our family of four lives in Italy — one of the epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak.

Adjusting to a weighty reality

We just finished the third week since the schools were closed, and the first week of maximum isolation. It means that it has been seven days that we haven’t gone outside of our gate. Since Feb. 21, the day Italy discovered the first coronavirus breeding ground, things have gotten worse.

It’s a scary thing for adults, let alone kids. The numbers of infections have grown visibly, as have the dead. Over 26,000 infected, 2,500 dead and around 3,000 have healed. Italy, unlike other countries, did a lot of swab tests right away and was transparent about the numbers of the epidemic.

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As everyone should know by now, the problem is that there is no more room in the intensive care units. And, if rigid restrictive measures are not implemented, our health system, one of the best in the world, risks to collapse. There are not enough beds to accommodate all the sick. We have 3.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people; America has 2.8.

We know that isolation is the only solution, and despite the huge sacrifice, we are happy that the government has understood faster than others to put health before wealth. Because people really do die.

Becoming ‘pros of isolation’

So, we stay at home. We look at the world from our windows without knowing when we will be able to see our families and our close friends again, but we know that the more we respect the rules, the faster we will get back to normal.

At week number three, we can say that we have become pros of isolation. We learned firsthand that it is essential to find some sort of daily routine. My husband and I work from home and divide the day in two: In the morning I work, in the afternoon he does.

Maintaining strict rules during this strange time is not always easy; in fact, it is sometimes difficult to keep it together. And then it happens, breakfast lasts longer than usual, you stay in your pajamas until 11 a.m. and everything starts a little later. We have made peace with it, and actually we learned to enjoy it and live it as a gift.

My 2-year-old daughter, who’s really a mama’s girl, would always be stuck to me if she could. So we found a way to trick her. Before I start writing, I put on my jacket and say goodbye, as if I were really going to the office, but instead of going out the door I hide in my bedroom.

My eldest daughter is in first grade. Every week her teacher sends us the school work she has to do divided up by day. She shares videos and links to keep the children from feeling lonely, but it’s not easy. We do her homework in the afternoon, when the little one takes her nap.

Another thing we enjoy is cooking. We cook a lot. Gnocchi, pasta, minestrone. This past Saturday we made homemade pizza. It is a way to pass the time and is a gift for our taste buds. If we were to eat inspired by the mood on the streets, we would starve.

Creating a normalcy and keeping hope

Sometimes we feel at war; sometimes we feel like we are having a strange forced vacation. Over the course of the day, we play hide and seek, Barbies, do puzzles, we draw — we do all of it even two or three times.

We are fortunate to have a backyard, and on sunny days, we do get to go outside and get some fresh air. Between laughs and tears there are quarrels of course. I admit that the girls watch TV and the tablet more than usual. At first we felt guilty, but then we made peace with it and we understood that electronic devices, sometimes, help us keep our sanity.

We miss dinners with friends, we miss being able to embrace our relatives. So we often do video chat in which we don’t say much, but we enjoy the pleasure of looking into each others’ eyes. We often talk about what’s going on and we are a little afraid; every cough arouses suspicion. We know people at the hospital and people who have died.

To overcome these discouraging times, the neighborhoods meet by window to play and sing together, to keep each other company.

Our family and friends from Michigan write and call us often. We are very happy that the state has taken stricter measures: This virus behaves equally in every country, and the sooner we all act, the sooner this will all be over.

We tell them to avoid contacts and to start self-isolation as soon as possible. We wonder when we will be able to come back to Detroit, when we will be able to travel free of fear.

We don’t know yet, but we are sure that when that day comes we’ll celebrate together.

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