Dr. Angelo Bianco: We are not just science

Dr. Bianco shares his thoughts on the condition of hospitalised patients, in particular the elderly, and stresses the importance of humanising care in the medical profession.

Physicians, not only about science

Dr. Angelo Bianco, a general surgeon, is originally from Calabria, Italy. He has been working at the Sant 'Andrea Civil Hospital in La Spezia for twenty years. In late September 2021 he published a personal reflection on the condition of hospitalised patients, especially the elderly. He emphasised the importance of humanising care, which can avoid the psychological symptoms of the so-called 'bed rest syndrome'.

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Dr. Bianco shares some thoughts to encourage his colleagues to think about before putting the white coat on, and to remember that we are family members, friends, children, and we are not just science.

Dr. Bianco's Facebook post

I have only been once on the other side of the "yellow line", beyond which you are a number, a disease. I was a medical student, I was admitted to dermatology, I was the Zoster, a three, I had no name. Next to my bed, there was a terminal cancer patient. We were divided by a false wall and by my fear at the time, but my awareness of the situation could never divide us. I was only there for three days, but I couldn't have endured a fourth day.

Since that stay, I have never again experienced lights switched on in the morning when it was still dark, or suddenly switched off when my eyes were still lit, or the bells that rang like an uninterrupted and out-of-tune orchestra, the tasteless soup, or never again have I experienced another day that was always the same. There is one memory beyond all others.

"Paolaaaa!" was a cry I heard during those nights. Next to me was a grandmother who (I thought naively) was afraid of the dark and called incessantly to someone I never knew who it was. I learned, right there and then, being on the patient's side, that the night, the pain, the silence, the loneliness, the unknown room, turns you back into a child-like mind frame, and there is no more Paola to hold your hand, to cuddle you in your dreams. Everything becomes a nightmare.

The day before yesterday, when I entered my ward, I heard the same cry [Editor's note: from the grandmother]: "Paolaaa!". I stopped, and commented to the head nurse, "she┬┤s been calling her all night". It happens like that in every ward, it's referred to as bed-rest syndrome. And it is heart-breaking. No elderly person should be deprived of their bed, their room, their home for so long. For them, it is necessary to keep their everyday references, it is their yellow line that separates them from disorientation, confusion, fear, nightmares.

Being a physician in a hospital is hard work. It is not enough to have a degree to also be able to distinguish evil from evil. What is needed is understanding, tolerance, patience, willingness to listen to the complaint, the request for help, without ever confusing it with a whim or a demand.

I did not have a "Paola" [in my thoughts] when I was sick, when I was Zoster, when I was number three. I was alone, my parents were far away, and was afraid of ill-doing, but I had my books and was in full awareness of my reason.

Mimmo is my brotherly friend, he is a head physician. Every one of his patients is grateful to him for his science and humanity. He has been operated on, he has gone across "the yellow line", has suffered his share on a sickbed, has gone through a dependence on the call bell, through a pain that would not stop. He has returned to the ward, and now it is no longer enough for him to take care of his patients as before. "Now, I stop by to feed them, now I demand that at the first ring of the bell they run to them because before, I did not imagine what suffering really was, what pain really was", [he told me].

The other morning, I stopped at the door of the room [where I was a patient] and the grandmother's lost eyes reminded me once again how much suffering a hospital bed is when the years are no longer able to speak to your reason, and how impossible it is to bear Paola's absence.

I can only be a physician, and I can always try to distinguish evil from evil, and it is the "yellow line" [of being caregiver or cared for] that distinguishes mankind and humanity, a patient and [their] pain. Think about that before you enter a wardroom when you hear a moaning. It is never a whim or a demand. Let us think about it when we turn off the lights in our office and head back to be with our children or our parents waiting for us at home.

Let's reflect on this before we cross some lines.

Dr. Bianco A., public statement from his personal Facebook profile. Originally published in Italian on September 30th, 2021.

Editor's Note: Some changes have been applied to Dr. Bianco's message during translation while trying to respect as much as possible his style. Specific additions or clarifications are marked with [...]