SHARE
COPY LINK

HEALTH

Nurses open up about life on the coronavirus front line in France

Overworked French health personnel struggle to keep up the morale as the number of coronavirus patients in the need of hospital care continues to grow.

Nurses open up about life on the coronavirus front line in France
Hospital workers protested in demand for higher salaries and better work conditions in November, 2019, saying they were pushed to the brink. Now, they are facing their as of yet biggest challenge. Pho

Every evening at the stroke of eight, millions of people across France take to their balconies to bang pots, beat drums, blow trumpets and to whistle and clap as loudly as they can.

The wave of sound from the nightly ritual in support of the country's health workers has become a morale-boosting moment of communion for a population confined to their homes for nearly three weeks.

But with the hundreds dying every day, the stoicism of the everyday heroes it celebrates is being sorely tested.

“Waking up this morning I cried. I cried eating breakfast. I cried getting ready,” nurse Elise Cordier wrote in a Facebook post that revealed the fear and anguish of those on the front line.

Once in “the hospital locker room,” she said, “I dried my tears. I breathed in. I breathed out. The people in the hospital beds are crying too, and it is I who am there to dry their tears.”

With the peak of the new coronavirus still to hit France, medical staff are girding themselves for a situation they never imagined they would face.

“Our teams are afraid of the uncertainty awaiting us this week and the whole month of April,” said Professor Elie Azoulay, who leads the intensive care unit of a Paris hospital which has tripled its capacity with 50 new beds. All are now full.

'They inspire respect' 

“They are afraid for themselves and their loved ones, afraid of not making it, of being overwhelmed,” Azoulay said, knowing that nurses and doctors have lost their lives elsewhere.

“But they are stoical too, dignified and frankly they inspire respect,” he added. “The nurses have amazed me.”

Not only do staff have to contend with the death and suffering of patients gasping for air as COVID-19 weakens their lungs, but also the fear that they themselves will fall ill and infect their families at home.

“They talk of a wave, of a tsunami, which by definition means that we will be submerged,” said Benjamin Davido, medical crisis director at the Raymond-Poincare hospital west of Paris.

“The fear is that we are going to have say to sick people on stretchers: 'Sorry, we have no more beds,'” he said.

The other great worry, Davido said, was having to tend to their own colleagues. Emotions aside, “it is not exactly what you would want ethically.

Everybody knows this and has started talking about it,” he said.

Anxiety has not been helped by the chronic shortage of masks and protective gear in French hospitals, with anger peaking after the death of the first French doctor 10 days ago, a man who had returned from holiday in his birthplace of Madagascar to help with the first major outbreak.

IN MAPS: How the coronavirus epidemic has hit different parts of France

Photo: AFP

'Don't come home, Mum'

Hospital psychologists who in the past were there to look after patients are now turning their attention to their colleagues.

At Clermont-Ferrand in the centre of France, psychiatrist Dr Julie Geneste said that beyond the fear of “not being able to cope”, most of the calls they have received to their support unit have been about “dealing with the anxiety of relatives and friends and the fear of infecting them.”

“This is something new, that our generation has never known at this level,” she said.

“We were not prepared for this,” said Etienne, a young doctor in the Paris region, who has been shaken by seeing one of his patients turned away from intensive care.

“We are all in agony… Some of my colleagues are in a state of shock, people are going off sick fearing for their families.”

Psychologist Nicolas Dupuis said he has seen calls rocket to 200 a day to the Pro-consult service he works for that supports medical staff. Carers are often caught in a double bind, he said, between their loyalty to their family and to their patients.

Dupuis said one nurse was being nagged by her partner to undress as soon as she arrived home and “bugged her all weekend when she touched her face – even when she had clean hands.”

But often it is their children's fears that hit hardest. One care assistant told him, “My seven-year-old daughter said to me, 'Mum, if you get sick, don't come home'.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

LIVING IN FRANCE

Property taxes, food and tunnels: 6 essential articles on life in France

From tax hikes to the price of food, air conditioning and the unexpected things that lurk beneath the streets of Paris, here are 6 essential articles for life in France.

Property taxes, food and tunnels: 6 essential articles on life in France

As the inhabitants of Paris, one of Europe’s most densely populated cities, walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet.

Paris has a huge network of underground spaces that hide some very unexpected things (as well as the entirely prosaci Metro).

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

From cheese and garlic to berets and sex, taxes and striking, France is heavily loaded with cultural stereotypes – and most of them are only partly accurate.

This is us, busting more myths.

Myth-busting: Are these 12 clichés about France actually true?

France warned that companies might have to reduce energy this winter as Russian continues to reduce its gas supplies to Europe.

The government has already begun work on an energy-saving plan, with more measures to come in September.

And it’s not the only country thinking along these lines – from limits to heating and air conditioning to turning off the lights and taking off ties, here’s how countries around Europe are cutting their energy usage.

Air-con, lights and ties: How countries around Europe hope to avoid blackouts this winter

Although householders in France are relatively fortunate when it comes to rising bills, there is one notable exception.

Towns and villages across France have been raising property tax rates for second-home owners – with many areas voting for the maximum 60 percent increase.

Tax hikes of up to 60% for French second home owners

As we’ve stumbled onto money matters, let’s consider the cost of living. France has many temptations to woo visitors and foreign residents: its scenery, history, the lifestyle, the food and the drink.

While some things here are more expensive than elsewhere – we’re looking at you, second-hand car dealers – and the taxes are notoriously high, what about the cost of groceries and wine? How do they compare? We do something that looks a lot like crunching the numbers…

How expensive is food and drink in France?

But, enough of all that seriousness. It’s silly season, after all. Prominent French scientist Etienne Klein has had to apologise for claiming this was the latest astonishing picture taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, when it was – in fact …

French astronomer apologises for ‘stellar’ photo that was really . . . chorizo

Some people take things far too seriously.

SHOW COMMENTS