Hospitals and COVID-19: "Before they applauded us. No longer".

MARSEILLE, France (AP) – It is two in the afternoon in the intensive care unit of the La Timone hospital in Marseille and Dr. Julien Carvelli is calling families hit by the second wave of coronavirus infections by phone to give them news about the disease. their children, husbands and wives. France’s ICUs have been operating at 95% capacity for ten days and Carvelli makes at least eight of these difficult calls daily.

This second wave is bringing more people to the ICUs than the first in Marseille and many people arrive in a more serious condition. Carvelli tells a man that his son should probably be put into a coma.

“Hold on for now. But I must tell you that the state of your airways is alarming, “the doctor informed him. There is a long pause. On the other side, the boy’s father tells him: “I understand. Do what you can. “

In France a second confinement was decreed two weeks ago. Journalists from the Associated Press spent 24 hours in the ICU of La Timone, the largest hospital in the south of France, which has difficulty keeping free beds for patients who continue to arrive.

Doctors and nurses tell themselves and others to hold out a little longer. Government statistics indicate that the second wave may have reached its peak and hospitalizations decreased last weekend for the first time since September.

But medical staff express frustration that the government has not done more to prepare for the second wave. And while doctors and nurses were considered true heroes at first, that has changed.

“Before they applauded us every night. Now they tell us that we just do our job, ”said Chloe Gascón, a 23-year-old nurse.

Marseille has been overwhelmed by the virus since September. This port on the Mediterranean did not have such a bad time last spring, but now the virus is taking its toll on the city as temperatures drop. Bars and restaurants closed on September 27, more than a month before they were scheduled to close across the country. But that was not enough.

A decade of budget cuts left France with half the ICU beds this year, when it needed them most. When the first lockdown ended on May 11, France had registered more than 26,000 deaths from COVID-19 and the government promised to take advantage of the summer, when infections were supposed to drop, to add beds and train more medical staff.

That was the time to act, when infections were going down, said Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds.

“The virus was still latent” and it was foreseeable that it would return with force, he said.

But it was only in early fall that work began at the La Timone ICU, which still has exposed cables and conglomerate barriers held up with duct tape. The promised reinforcements arrive by dropper and the training is impromptu, according to Paulina Reynier.

It is just his second turn as a reinforcement of the UCI. Her new colleagues don’t even know her name and have little time to orient her. Learn as you go by observing others. It takes months to train an intensive care nurse, years to gain experience in a grueling job, dealing with death on a daily basis.

And the virus aggravates everything. Medical personnel are in as much danger as the patient, and each time they enter the ICU they must wear protective equipment. Approaching a bed involves taking a number of precautions: Washing the patient, brushing teeth, checking vital signs, changing IV tubes, and turning the patient to improve breathing.

Reynier puts on a long-sleeved apron over the one he already wears, two pairs of gloves, covers his head, wears glasses and a second plastic apron. Physicians who perform intubations wear protective plastic masks in addition to glasses.

For every person inside the ICU, there is another outside, who passes everything you need and helps you remove your protective equipment when you leave.

“We have to help them hold out until their bodies heal,” Carvelli said. “ICUs are terrible places. Not everyone can bear them. “

Then come the calls to relatives. “You have to reassure them and at the same time tell them the truth. Sometimes it is not easy to find the right balance, “said Carvelli.

The day shift ends and there is a free bed in ward 12. The doctor who will oversee the night shift hopes to keep it that way.

“I want to keep a bullet in the chamber,” said Dr. Fouad Bouzana.

Around two in the morning, an individual arrives to occupy that bed.

La Timone is again packed.