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    a stethoscope and white coat of a doctor

    Grateful for Each Breath

    Nothing can any longer be taken for granted.

    Amedeo Capetti

    April 1, 2020
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    • Andrew Burke

      Thank you Dr Capetti, I am also an infectious diseases doctor (In Australia). We have all been in mourning for your country. I too am looking after COVID patients - so far only a few although some have passed away. How do we find Christ in this when our usual points of reference and routine- family gatherings, coffee with friends, weekly Church- has been denied us? For me it is harder and the usual scaffolding which anchors my week is not there, or at least is further away. Today is Palm Sunday, normally a long Mass, but today reading scripture on line instead which is not the same. Your article has come at a timely moment, having just been informed that one of my COVID patients passed away overnight. A Carmelite priest said to me , "Where there is pain and confusion, there you will find Christ." I think of this often in my medical life when faced with the diverse manifestations of physical, mental and spiritual suffering we come across. So somewhere in this crisis Christ is there, and through prayer we can open ourselves to signs of Grace as you have done. Happy Easter to you, your family, colleagues and patients.

    • Christina

      What a beautiful statement. I appreciate Dr Capetti’s calling out of the “forced optimism” that we can easily get pulled into. Someone living near me said the other day, “We’ve got this.” No, we haven’t got this. We must be careful and take our measures but we are not, in the end, in control. Many of us in the West are not used to this sort of vulnerability. It makes us very uncomfortable. What’s important is not feeling powerful but feeling real gratitude. I love the doctor’s statement that “we are frail and that everything has been given to us.” Let us confess our frailty and our great debt to God for everything, especially life.

    • Patricia Fiddian

      Beautiful..thank you very much. 🙏🌈

    I am a physician of the First Department of Infectious Diseases of the Luigi Sacco Hospital in Milan, until recently an expert on anti-retroviral therapy, with 650 HIV-seropositive patients, but now thrown into the COVID section like everybody else from my department.

    Today I have a quiet moment and I am writing to share the thoughts that filled my mind this morning as I drove here to the hospital.

    My first thought was at odds with the forced optimism that I see circulating these days, with the ovations for and the newfound idolization of the healthcare profession. In my opinion these are understandable attempts to exorcise a very human fear, but they are weak in content. In fact, what does it mean to say, “We are going to make it?” Does this mean that we must just look forward to the end of the epidemic, skipping over the drama of the current situation? And, moreover, who is going to make it? You and I who are writing to each other? The Italian people as an abstract entity? All of this is unconvincing and, frankly, it leaves me puzzled.

    My second thought: I have noticed the nearly complete disappearance of complaints, and I find this to be a very important symptom. Rather than complain, my patients send me messages every day to ask me how I am doing, wanting to participate in the incredible and exceptional experience I am living. This is the very reason I have decided to write to you.

    In fact, what I am living – but I believe this to be an experience shared by many others – is a phenomenon that we physicians often see in those who have survived a brush with death: the experience of opening your eyes and realizing that nothing can any longer be taken for granted. It is the recognition that everything is a gift: waking up in the morning, greeting your loved ones, and even all the little moments of daily life, that for some are merely time to be filled, but for others, like me, have unexpectedly become even more compelling than before.

    We look at each other and say: today we cannot hug each other, but a smile says much more than what a hug used to say. 

    The grace of this new self-awareness radically transforms what we do, generating amazement and friendship. We look at each other and say: today we cannot hug each other, but a smile says much more than what a hug used to say. This awareness allows us to participate in the drama of our patients. It is no coincidence that my colleagues ask me to pray not only for their loved ones, but also for their patients, something that has never happened before. And this, too, is contagious. Yesterday a woman from Crema phoned me to get news about her grandmother who is hospitalized and in serious condition at the Sacco. She told me of her other grandmother, who died of COVID, and of her mother, who is in intensive care in Crema, and then she said, “You see, doctor, at the beginning I was praying, but now I’ve stopped.” I answered, “I understand, ma’am. Do not worry. I will be the one praying for her.” When she heard this, she was moved and said, “No, doctor, if you are going to pray, I’ll do it as well. Let’s pray together for my mother.”

    All of this is wealth, grace, and if more people became aware of it, this could, in my opinion, be of great social value: recognizing that we are frail and that everything has been given to us (starting with our breath, which, in these days, cannot be taken as a given any longer) would put to rest many useless disagreements and discussions.

    My final thought goes to the aftermath. It is common following a time of great enthusiasm for everything to eventually simmer down and for old bad habits to resurface, as Dante Alighieri lamented of the century that preceded him. What can save us from this foreseeable setback? As far as I can see, gratitude must become the reflective judgment on what is going on, a judgment that finds its expression in the searching questions that we have all been asking and that unite us: in the end, what is the origin of all this? Why did our eyes suddenly open up and start to see the real essence of things? Where can this experience lead us? Where can we discover a human gaze upon each other like the one we are experiencing today in many circumstances? Who can help us?

    For me, the experience of amazement entering life, an experience in which nothing is ever to be taken for granted and everything is a gift, began many years ago, and every time it happens again it is like a new beginning that renews my certainty about its origin. For others it will be a new journey. I cannot and do not want to offer predefined answers, because everyone will be able to understand it only by experiencing it, just as I have. But I can raise the question, for nothing should fall victim to the “already known” and the aesthetic or intellectual reduction of it.

    Now, I have arrived at the hospital.


    This essay was originally published as a letter to the editor in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio on March 18, 2020. The translation by Renzo Canetta and Letizia Mariani also appeared in the CL Newsletter of the Movement of Communion and Liberation.

    Contributed By

    Amedeo Capetti is a physician at Luigi Sacco Hospital, infectious diseases expert, and consultant to the WHO.

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