Set in March 2020, Italy, Michele Aiello’s My Place is Here offers a slice of life inside a hospital right after the worst stage of the pandemic.
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One year into the pandemic, we’ve already seen a handful of documentaries about the response — whether finding moments of humanity in the hospital in 76 Days or looking at the propaganda machine in In the Same Breath. But almost all of them have been focused on Wuhan, where it all started. Michele Aiello’s My Place Is Here, by contrast, takes us into The Spedali Civili, a public hospital in Brescia, Italy, in March 2020, just after the worst of the Italian COVID crisis. Like in Wuhan Wuhan, we witness the shortage of PPE and how the hospitals deal with this. Like in 76 Days, there are moments of connection, here between doctors and patients. For example, there’s the recently recovered elderly woman who is looking forward to dancing again — and the conversation between the nurses to not encourage her, lest her pulse skyrocket like the last time.
But My Place is Here works more as a procedural, offering a window into the ins and outs of the daily grind that healthcare professionals and patients experienced during the pandemic. Patients talk about their rooms as prisons where they’ve been completely isolated from human contact. When the hospital sets up WiFi to allow the patients to make video calls home, it’s a major moment of excitement. As much as the patients get joy from seeing their loved ones on an iPad, it’s a frustrating experience for them because their breathing machines mean they can’t talk, leaving the nurses to serve as mediators. The staff also works to bend the rules to let loved ones say goodbye to terminal patients because they know, at this point, that compassion means everything.
Perhaps most harrowing and moving though are the conversations we witness between the staff and patients, recounting stories to one another, often from the earlier days in the pandemic. One nurse recalls when at least one patient was dying during every shift, not just every day. The head of the infectious disease unit tells a funny anecdote about what happened when he revealed his job to a stranger on the street — who immediately took several steps back. It results in a portrait of a specific time and place and crisis, which feels recognizable wherever you are in the world. Though as someone who had a hospital bed (for something unrelated) at around this stage in the pandemic, I was alarmed that COVID-positive patients in the hospital did not appear to be in negative-pressure isolation rooms!
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