Italy ICU nurse couple bring family love to ward

(AP) — The pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for families around the world managing work and home life.

For the Di Giacobbe family, the juggling is even trickier since mom and dad are intensive care nurses in the same COVID-19 hospital. They spend their days trying to provide their patients the type of personal care and attention they give their children.

The family will celebrate Christmas together this year — parents Maurizio Di Giacobbe and Glenda Grossi managed to both get Dec. 25 off. But they won’t have grandparents, aunts and uncles around their holiday table. They want to protect them.

“So we will be with our three children, the dog and the two cats,” Grossi said on a rare Saturday when both parents were home at the same time, decorating the Christmas tree with Tiziano, 4, Arianna, 9, and Flavio, 10.

When the pandemic first erupted in Italy last spring, and no one knew how to mitigate its spread, the parents wore surgical masks around the children and developed a “virtual hug” to express their love. For the children, it was a game. But their parents knew first-hand just how deadly COVID-19 was.

“I don’t want to say we got used to seeing people die, but we were going to work with a kind of feeling of resignation” that at most they could provide their patients with dignity in their final moments, Di Giacobbe said.

Over time, doctors figured out which therapies worked better. “Now, instead, we are fighting,” he said.

Still, Italy now leads Europe with the most COVID-19 deaths — more than 65,000.

In many ways, the couple bring the love of a family into the COVID-19 ward, knowing well the importance of touches, caresses and videocalls with their patients’ loved ones outside, who are otherwise barred from visiting.

Grossi tears up when she remembers one of her first patients at Rome’s Tor Vergata COVID hospital, Fabio, a 43-year-old father of three who married his partner in March while he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

“I remember that day when Fabio made the video call to his wife and children, he touched his chest with his hand and said: ‘They need to intubate me, I’ll see you soon.’” As Di Giaccobe sits by her side, Grossi’s voice cracks.

“’See you soon’ never came true unfortunately, because Fabio didn’t make it.”