20.08.2020 Europe

"We weren't ready" for coronavirus, says French doctor in new book

By Christina Okello with RFI
LISTEN AUG 20, 2020

A French doctor on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight has published a new book detailing his daily battle against the onslaught of Covid-19 cases. In "We weren't ready," Gilles Pialoux shows hospitals were not prepared when disaster struck.

Written in the form of a diary, "We weren't ready" is a harrowing tale of one hospital's struggle to stay afloat during the height of the pandemic as its emergency rooms were flooded with Covid-19 patients.

Pialoux, the head of an infection prevention department at Tenon Hospital in Paris, records his first log on 30 December 2019 in the morning and doesn't finish until the evening of 31 May.

The result is five months of stress and exhaustion, as the 63-year-old and other health care professionals try to navigate in an environment of severe shortages and ever-increasing patient numbers.

Outdated masks
"In some departments, there are only small-sized gloves and FFP2 masks dating from 2012 are distributed with a single rubber band," he recounts.

Many doctors lamented the lack of personal protective equipment. In Pialoux's case, hospital staff were given ponchos or cloth gowns instead of the disposable ones to wear.

In another extract, Pialoux reveals that during a hospital crisis two weeks before France went into lockdown on 17 March, panic spread after a doctor started coughing.

The doctor in question was later tested positive for Covid-19 and put into quarantine.

"At present, our hospital has three times more health professionals who are sick compared to hospital patients," he wrote on 5 March.

Government under fire
"We weren't ready" is also a critique of the government's handling of the crisis and its failure to comprehend how bad the outbreak could be.

Feeling abandoned, doctors like Pialoux were forced to chart their own course of action, which often required them to make difficult choices.

When it came to choosing which patients would gain access to intensive care, "age became an important factor but it wasn't the only one," Pialoux writes.

As coronavirus cases begin to creep up again in France amid fears of a second wave, infectious disease specialists such as Pialoux are urging authorities to get their response right this time.

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