"Don't come here, it's too dangerous!" my sister texted my mother a few weeks ago. "If you were to become infected with coronavirus, I would never forgive myself."
My parents live in Naples, southern Italy, where I was born and raised before becoming an American citizen in 2018. My sister is in graduate school to become an anesthesiologist and she works in one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, one of the first areas to be designated as a red zone in the country.
The Costagliola family on vacation at Disney World.
My parents, who are both over 65 years of age, were supposed to go visit my sister up north before coming to visit my family and I in New York, something they do at least once a year. We had it all planned out: they would join us in Syracuse — where we are currently stationed — and after a week, we were going to take a road trip all the way down to Florida, stopping at the most iconic landmarks on the East Coast, taking plenty of photos for my two children to look back on one day and reminisce on the precious moments they spent with their grandparents.
My 8-year-old son was counting down the days until the arrival of his Nanna and Babba, who had promised to bring an entire suitcase filled with presents for him and his 4-year-old sister — something they do every time they come visit. "Mamma, only 30 days left!" he shouted with excitement as he stepped off the school bus one afternoon. "Baby, I have to tell you something..." I said as I invited him to sit on the couch next to me. The words that came out of my mouth during that conversation sounded like something out of a script of an Apocalyptic science fiction movie.
Tiziana Costagliola at work at one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region.
Only a few hours earlier, I had spoken to my parents via Skype and my mother, a primary care provider, told me with tears in her eyes, "I love you, and that's why I won't come visit you guys."
I couldn't believe it.
The coronavirus had started spreading in Italy, but it was mostly contained in the red zone. It wasn't even in southern Italy yet. Borders were open, flights were departing as scheduled, cruise ships were taking excited passengers to the most exotic corners of the world, and theme parks were still selling way too much candy to children running toward their favorite ride.
Yet, my parents had decided to cancel their trips. They would not be going to visit my sister nor would they be coming to visit us in the United States of America. "It's going to get much worse before it gets better, sweetheart." My mother explained, "And I would never forgive myself if I unknowingly brought the virus to you all."
It's going to get much worse. That thought kept haunting my mind, day and night. It sounded like a prophecy.
"We were just told to choose which patients to save..." my sister wrote a few days later in a family group chat on WhatsApp. "We are to pick younger patients over older ones, as they have better chances of surviving the coronavirus."
Meanwhile, life in the United States of America was proceeding as usual. Children off to school, grocery shopping done, and manuscripts edited. But the headlines in the news began mirroring what I was hearing from my mother and sister back home. Not enough hospital rooms. Virus spreads to southern Italy as well. Italy struggles to contain outbreak. Italian hospitals out of ICU beds. Airlines have canceled their flights to and from Italy.
It was a nightmare. What was happening to my home country? What was happening to my family and friends?
But then, Italy took a deep breath, looked in the mirror and reminded herself of who she is. The land of art, eternal love, good food, genuine smiles, warm sun and glittering Mediterranean waters. An entire red zone with 60 million people in quarantine, Italians stepped outside their balconies, playing instruments, singing, dancing and keeping each other company.
At the end of their impromptu concerts and shows, they could be heard yelling, "Andrà tutto bene!"
Everything's going to be alright.
And now that we are also facing the reality of the outbreak here in the United States of America, let's remind ourselves that, if we all do our part, everything will be alright.
As for that vacation, we were planning on taking; it wasn't canceled, just postponed to when we are allowed to finally hug each other again. And if my children have it their way, it'll be even bigger and better than the one we had originally planned.
Yes, everything will be alright.
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