On The Covid-19 Frontline With Dr. Marco Ercoli, A Polo Ref’s Desperate Plea: Stay Home!

International water polo referee Marco Ercoli - a doctor working round the clock to save lives - Photo Courtesy: Marco Ercoli

Marco Ercoli – “During work the fear disappears”

International water polo referee Marco Ercoli is one of those unnamed heroes who are battling in the frontline of Covid-19 in terrible times. The Italian referee is working as a doctor in the Augusto Murri Hospital in the city of Fermo, living through all those horrendous moments with colleagues and the sick and dying on a daily if not hourly basis that we are hearing about in the news.

Marco works in one of the hardest hit regions in the country and he and his colleagues are working around the clock to save lives. During a rare rest period, he gave up valuable time to answer our questions – and his honest answers might help to further understand how tough are the challenges the medical personnel face on the field.

Below is a Q&A from the coronavirus frontline courtesy of Gergely Csurka, a journalist in Hungary who works with theEuropean Swimming League (LEN) and Hungarian Swimming Federation.

Before that here is a translation for what Dr. Ercoli wrote in a harrowing, moving note on his Facebook page:

Hello, I present to you CoViD!… basically I understand you, I understand those of you who continue to go out to take maybe just two steps and ignoring the indications/advice, after all you have never seen the virus, you’ve just been told about it on TV by a commentator who may refer to it as “little more than a flu”.

But, if you feel like it, take two minutes to get to know this virus … I will introduce it to you in the way Anna knew it (the name has obviously been changed) after she arrived one night in the emergency room.

Anna is a middle-aged lady, three children and 4 grandchildren, for a few days she had a little fever and was at home; then from this afternoon, suddenly, she developed a very strong cough that almost made it impossible for her to breathe; then came the the call to 118 and an ambulance to [emergency].

Come in, we welcome you immediately, as always: examinations, plates, therapy, as it always is [in emergency]. Anna gets worse, does not respond to our attempts, interventions go wrong … sometimes it happens, unfortunately, as always, but here is where we find our friend Mr. CoViD, introducing himself – and that’s the moment what never happened before happens.  

In such cases, one of us immediately leaves the emergency room and rushes to the waiting room, where 1, 2, 4 family members eagerly await news that we always try to provide quickly, especially when that news is not good/encouraging … the other night we were not able to do that.

The hospital itself was isolated, there was a ban on access to relatives in order not to transmit the virus, so we find out a cellphone number and we try to deliver, through a phone, the news that nobody would ever want to receive: “Your mother / wife / daughter is dying” … and on the other side of the line, silence … what else should we expect?

There are no eyes to look at to relieve the pain a bit, there are no hands to squeeze to feel closer, there is no embrace that can only be given in the presence of others, even in silence … and after making that surreal call, we return to Anna – and you have no idea how to explain to a lady who until last week was preparing dessert surrounded by family members why when she asks “is there nobody here who can be near me?”

This is CoViD-19, or coronavirus, or whatever you want to call it, if you ask me if it is the worst disease I have seen I tell you, yes, and you know why, because it leaves you ALONE!

If you are lucky, it will be a period in the hospital in which you will see only the eyes of the doctor or nurse behind the mask, otherwise you end up being zipped up in a bag (because this is the rule) and buried without anyone ever seeing you again, nor being able to greet you, not even share a last kiss with.

Now that I hope I have introduced you to it a little better, while some of us are forced to risk our skin every day and would like to be in your place instead, I hope you think about it at least 3 times before going shopping every day, before you take a walk with the dog or chat on the street … STAY HOME !!!

I embrace you, Marco

A Q & A with Dr Marco Ercoli:


Photo Courtesy: Dr. Marco Ercoli

As I imagine, in normal times doctors got used to strict rules and protocols – but as we see on TV, in Italian hospitals rules and protocols might no longer be valid since quite a while. How did it affect you that everything has been turned upside down?

ME: We have always been used to being closely tied to protocols. Fortunately, this did not affect the clinical and professional capacity of each of us. Once we understood that the rules had changed, we immediately put in place alternative ideas and new protocols, which still change daily as the situation changes. It is difficult and tiring, but certainly rewarding from a professional point of view.

Have you ever imagined a situation similar to this? Have you been trained at least theoretically what to do when such a pandemic hits a country and have those trainings really prepared you for this?

ME: Imagine? Unfortunately yes. Though the system was not exactly ready for all of this. I personally have USAR (urban search and rescue) training from the Italian civil protection authorities and I have a master’s degree in Medical Disaster Management. These skills have certainly helped me, even if the training for the emotional part can only be taken on the field.

Is there any difference between the challenges of each day? One is tougher than the other – or can we say that each is the toughest one you’ve ever experienced?

ME: In this battle, each challenge is unique, because even in the same clinical situation patients have different histories. Each of them is a story that leaves a memory, unfortunately not always a nice one…

Have you been in a situation when you had to make a cruel decision? When your heart was almost broken? Or in these times a doctor simply cannot be too sensitive?

ME: Fortunately, the decisions I had to make were always in line with my code of ethics. In some situations, where cruel decisions were required, the professionalism and ethics of colleagues from other departments allowed us to always choose the best for whom we were assisting.

We’ve learned in shock that at least a hundred medical personnel died from Covid19 in Italy. Do you work in fear or there is no room to worries when you are called on duty?

ME: Obviously I’m worried, like all my colleagues. Especially for our loved ones at home, as we have the fears in our minds of being able to infect those we care about. But during work the fear disappears, while maintaining a high degree of attention we do not spare ourselves, this is our environment, we must remain concentrated professionals.


Dr. Marco Ercoli

How is your body and soul? Do you have any time for just a short recharging or it’s a constant battle?

ME: The time for a refill to the physical part is there, the constant battle is in the mind. It is very difficult to be able to rest the brain, but I try to do my best to recover mental energies by taking care of my family.

I guess you miss water polo – as we all do. Do you wait for the time to return to the pool deck?

ME: The perception of time in these weeks is strange. Not having my weekly pool dispositions makes it even more surreal. After so many years it’s a very strange effect, I can’t wait to go back to whistling.

How do you see the future of water polo and sport after these troubled times?

ME: Unfortunately it is a question I can’t answer. It is the same that I do for everything else, from work to community life, what will change in our habits after all this? Usually from moments of crisis always great ideas come out, we hope our sport is one of those realities that take advantage of this break to bring out captivating proposals, otherwise we will all suffer.


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