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In Mulhouse, after a year of Covid, internal medicine caregivers still on the bridge

“If things go back up, we will be there. We are not abandoning the ship”: despite the “fed up” and “fatigue”, the caregivers of the internal medicine department of the Mulhouse hospital, very much in demand since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, stand ready in the event of a new outbreak of the virus.

A year ago, when the epidemic hit the Alsatian city hard and overwhelmed the Emile-Muller hospital, “the beginnings were difficult, no one expected such violence”, recalls Mireille Ducarouge, 56 years old, health manager in this department, one of the largest in the Mulhouse establishment with around sixty beds.

Since then, “we are Covid all day: at work, at home when we get back”, listening to the news … “The staff are fed up, we want to think of something else”, testifies- she told AFP.

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A nurse takes care of a patient in the internal medicine department of the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, February 16, 2021 (AFP – SEBASTIEN BOZON)

Less publicized than their resuscitator or emergency room colleagues but just as solicited, internists – doctors, nurses or nursing assistants – have been playing a crucial role in hospital management of the pandemic for a year: their service, which welcomes rather used by patients suffering from systemic or autoimmune diseases, was very quickly reconfigured in Covid mode to take care of patients requiring hospitalization and oxygenation, without necessarily being intubated.

– “Caring” –

A real hub of the hospital, capable, with its hundreds of caregivers, of welcoming patients coming out of emergencies or taking care of those returning from intensive care.

A doctor and an intern consult information on a computer in the internal medicine department of the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, February 16, 2021 (AFP - SEBASTIEN BOZON)

A doctor and an intern consult information on a computer in the internal medicine department of the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, February 16, 2021 (AFP – SEBASTIEN BOZON)

In mid-February, Covid activity in Haut-Rhin is no longer that of a year ago: Emile-Muller, who reactivated the white plan in the fall, has 136 cases of Covid-19 , including 14 in intensive care. In the Haut-Rhin, the incidence rate (nearly 138), still substantial, is lower than those of the Grand Est (176) and the Moselle (nearly 280), where the push of variants worries, according to the latest official figures.

“Today, about twenty” Covid patients are hospitalized in internal medicine, explains Dr. Benjamin Dervieux, who will take the reins of the service in two weeks.

On the doors of several rooms, posters warn: “Before entering, talk to caregivers. Covid +”. In the corridors, the latter wear blouses, charlottes, overshoes, glasses and gloves.

Originally from Staffelfelden, north of Mulhouse, Daniel arrived in the service on Friday. This 77-year-old former mechanic takes his hat off to the nursing team, “with little care”: “it’s people who run, who work”, slips the retiree.

“Here in the hospital, things are not idle, with a smile” while yet “they must have had Covid up to now!”

An intern prepares drugs for patients in the internal medicine department of the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, February 16, 2021 (AFP - SEBASTIEN BOZON)

An intern prepares drugs for patients in the internal medicine department of the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, February 16, 2021 (AFP – SEBASTIEN BOZON)

At the height of the epidemic, internal medicine had to push the walls and open beds to accommodate up to 70 patients, remembers Dr. Dervieux, 34, in post at Emile-Muller for three and a half years.

– “Tiring” –

Subsequently, “the summer was calmer (…) we were able to breathe”, slips this doctor of a “rather optimistic nature”, “not worried about the variants”, including two cases of “South Africans” have recently been identified in high schools in Mulhouse and Colmar.

A patient carrying the English variant is also hospitalized in internal medicine, specifies Dr. Dervieux, who notes that “the Covid activity has decreased in the last weeks” within the Haut-Rhin establishment, proof in his eyes that the measures sanitary facilities (systematic wearing of a mask, curfew, etc.) are functioning.

An intern puts on protective gloves in the internal medicine department of the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, February 16, 2021 (AFP - SEBASTIEN BOZON)

An intern puts on protective gloves in the internal medicine department of the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, February 16, 2021 (AFP – SEBASTIEN BOZON)

And if, as feared by the Ministry of Health which calls on health establishments to reactivate their “internal mobilization plan” by Thursday, the epidemic curve starts to rise again, then “we will be able” to cope, explains Dr Dervieux in a calm voice. Even if, he concedes, reorganizing a service is necessarily “quite tiring”.

“We are trying to motivate the troops”, slips Mireille Ducarouge. “We have a great team, young, dynamic” and “united”. Anyway, “we must continue, we are caregivers at heart”.

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