Italy star Maxime Mbanda has leapt from the rugby pitch to the front line in the fight against the coronavirus.
The 27-year-old, who has 20 caps to date, was set to face England in front of 60,000 people in Rome last weekend before the Six Nations clash was postponed.
🗣️“Dal campo al contatto con medici e infermieri in prima linea è stata una bella botta..”— Zebre Rugby Club 🦓 (@ZebreRugby) March 17, 2020
Il racconto del flanker delle Zebre #Rugby 🦓 e della @Federugby 🇮🇹 Maxime Mbandà, impegnato da volontario con la Croce Gialla di #Parma
🗞️Leggi l’intervista👉 https://t.co/KWNqoGqbqZ pic.twitter.com/ds9OXTvnVD
He’s now a volunteer ambulance driver in Parma, and has witnessed the frightening reality on the pandemic.
“When everything was cancelled in rugby, I wondered how I could help, even without medical expertise,” Mbanda, who plays for Zebre Rugby, the Parma club, told AFP.
“I found the Yellow Cross, which had a transport service for medicine and food for the elderly.”
“I found myself transferring positive patients from one local hospital to another. I help with the stretcher or if there are patients to be carried from a wheelchair. I also hold the oxygen,” he explains.
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“If people saw what I see in the hospitals, there wouldn’t be a queue in front of the supermarkets anymore,” he said.
“They would think two, three or four times before leaving home, even to go running.”
“What I see are people of all ages, on respirators, on oxygen, doctors and nurses on 20- or 22-hour shifts, not sleeping one minute of the day and just trying to get some rest the next day,” he adds.
“I wish I could say that the situation here has reached its limit. But I’m afraid I have to say that’s not the case.”
Mbanda has had to become a psychologist in contact with patients put in wards “where death is the order of the day”.
“When you see the look in their eyes… Even if they can’t speak, they communicate with the eyes and they tell you things you can’t imagine,” he said.
Italian rugby international Maxime Mbanda jumps from the back row to the coronavirus front line as volunteer ambulance driver.— AFP Sport (@AFP_Sport) March 21, 2020
'His neighbour in the next bed died. And during the night, two other women died. He had never seen anyone die.'#Covid_19 @StanTouchot pic.twitter.com/oEeo4LrvDe
“They hear the alarms, the doctors and nurses running from one ward to the next.
“The first person I collected from the hospital told me that he had been there for three hours when the neighbour in the next bed died. And during the night, two other women died in his room. He had never seen anyone die.”
You have to treat these patients “as if they were relatives or friends,” he said.
“But the terrible thing is that every time you touch them, a simple caress in the ambulance to comfort them, you must immediately disinfect your hands.”
“I started eight days ago, without a day’s break and with shifts of 12 or 13 hours. But faced with what I see in the infectious disease rooms, I tell myself that I can’t be tired,” he added.