Dr. Giuseppe Vallo is head of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at the COF Lanzo Hospital near Como – Facebook

BARELY able to raise his hand, a 90-year-old man beckoned to the doctor who was about to place an oxygenation helmet upon him. He told the doctor that he did not want them to waste time and energy on him – there were far too many younger people at the hospital who needed their assistance. However, the doctor did not allow himself to be persuaded, and with a smile he proceeded with the treatment. Within a few weeks, the patient was back on his feet and eventually discharged from the hospital.

This sounds like one of the many stories of the battle that is still being fought against the pandemic in hospitals around the world. This incident, however, had a great emotional impact on Dr. Giuseppe Vallo, the young head of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at the COF Lanzo Hospital near Como in northern Italy.

On his Facebook page the doctor wrote this post in the form of a letter addressed to the elderly patient, “You checked into our ward on November 1st. When I read your date of birth I immediately noticed that you are only eight days older than my own dad. On the second day your oxygenation was so low that I had to put a CPAP helmet on you. You shook my hand and said, ‘Doctor, I have done everything I wanted in life. I am 90-years-old, so let me go.’ Your smile and dignity gripped my heart so tightly that it seemed to me that I was the one who lacked oxygen.”

The battle fought together began, and Dr. Vallo wrote in the second part of his letter, “Through my iPhone I was able to get you in contact with your relatives. The nurses took good care of you and they all did their job with love. After 15 days, we discharged you from the intensive care ward. We brought you back as beautiful as you were before you got sick, and you started to walk again with the superb help of our physiotherapists.

“You have thanked us so many times, but the truth is that we must thank you because you have given us hope and the desire to continue the fight every day. We saved you and you saved us. As you left the hospital, I gave you a hug. In that moment, I saw my daddy’s and my beloved grandfather’s smile.”

This story moved me deeply, dear reader, because it explains in very simple terms what the life and mission of a medical practitioner should be: that of being close to the sick, to cure and look after them.

Pope Francis expressed the same concept during his audience with the members of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, “Your mission is a witness of humanity, a privileged means of helping others to see and feel that God our Father cares for every individual, without distinction. To do this, he wishes to employ our knowledge, our hands and our hearts, in order to care for and bring healing to every human being. To each of us he wants to grant life and love.”

This closeness to the sick, however, is not only a task and mission for doctors and paramedics. This is why, in 1992, Saint Pope John Paul II instituted the World Day of the Sick, to be celebrated on February 11, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. In the letter explaining this new commemoration, John Paul wrote that the day should be “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church, and of reminding everyone to see in their sick brothers and sisters the face of Christ who, by suffering and dying and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind.”

If any of your relatives or friends, or even you yourself, are unwell, on February 11 at 6 PM (CET) please join Fr. Giancarlo Zamengo, the General Director of the Messenger of Saint Anthony and myself at our streamed Holy Mass in the Basilica of Saint Anthony (www.saintanthonyofpadua.net). We will pray together that God’s healing hand may rest upon all our sick brothers and sisters.

Updated on February 01 2021