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Personal Experience

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To grasp in the eyes

Language: English
Country: Italy
Typology: health care professionals
This is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl, oncology department, 1999. Elena is a little girl coming from the south of Italy (I don't remember the Region exactly). I start the story by pointing out this fact because her family, I can remember, had moved here to Turin especially to care for Elena. I began working a few years before and, since it was necessary, I spent many months in the oncology department, even if not continuously. It was, and is still, defined, by health professionals, as a "difficult" department, especially from the emotional point of view, due to the type of patients: they are almost all very young patients, suffering from cancer, often with severe physical impairment. Elena had been diagnosed with a very invasive, poorly differentiated osteosarcoma to the right femur, which had no metastasis for the moment. The pathology was very serious. Elena and her family were of humble origin, it was the first time for them that a condition of health required such a long trip and hospitalization in a big city like Turin. I remember that her mother spoke only the dialect and she barely understood what doctors said. They were dismayed and bewildered. They did not understand and failed to accept Elena’s disease. Elena herself was closed, impenetrable, panicked. She used to look at every single operator in the eyes, when he went into the room, to grasp the reality of her situation in his eyes, rather than in his words. It was an important experience. There will be millions of similar cases today, but it was the first for me and, what’s more, I had followed this story since its beginning. It had been a very difficult beginning, which would bring Elena who knows where. Today I still ask myself what has become of this family.

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