Medicine: The Woman in Bed No. 19

Giuseppina Mettlica. 63, was a scrupulously neat widow who lived alone in a Milan attic. Though her dress might be patched, elderly women neighbors noted that her underwear was always immaculate—and Giuseppina had a liking for pink underskirts. She was wearing one of these when, just after the Christmas holidays, Neighbor Astorria Alessi found her delirious with fever and pneumonia, arranged to get her into Milan's huge (2,274-bed) Niguarda Hospital.

Big as it is, Niguarda is not big enough. That first week of January it held 3,570 patients. The medical wards were too...

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