Beginning of our series in 15 episodes Les Toulousains (et Toulousaines) of the year with doctors Muriel Alvarez and Béatrice Riu-Poulenc, who together led the battle against the Covid-19. In 2020, in the service of infectious and tropical diseases and in the multipurpose resuscitation of the Purpan hospital, the coronavirus has become their daily life.
In January 2020, Dr Béatrice Riu-Poulenc felt very far from what was happening in China. “For me, we risked nothing. But the day the Director General of WHO declared that we were going to face a pandemic, I admit that I was a little afraid, I told myself that something was going to happen, “says the head of Purpan’s general-purpose intensive care unit at Toulouse University Hospital.
Then came the time for the first signals in France, for the first crisis unit in Toulouse. “We were out of step with our colleagues in the Grand-Est who seemed to be going through hell. Nothing was happening, we were waiting for the first cases. For two weeks, 15 hours a day, we prepared, we trained the personnel in dressing and undressing, we carried out a bibliographic watch, we freed beds. White plans, simulations of a disaster with 70 injured for which we are immediately operational, we are there. But the pandemic is another scale, another time … “
Same astonishment with Dr Muriel Alvarez, yet an infectious disease specialist in the infectious and tropical diseases department (SMIT) of the Toulouse University Hospital. “It’s incredible to say that for a scientist but when the virus appeared in China, I did not imagine that it was going to reach us like that…”. From the end of February, with the returns of travelers, the multiplication of hospitalized patients, the situation changes. “We had a clear picture of what was to follow: many patients and many patients in intensive care”, summarizes Muriel Alvarez.
“The applause did good”
Drs Riu-Poulenc and Alvarez, whose services are on the same floor in Purpan, will work together. “Being next door, in the same building, is great for us and for the patients”, summarize the two doctors. Their medical daily life is no longer punctuated by the Covid. “It will be several more months, until people are vaccinated. We too would like to move on, because we have families, relatives who are economically and socially impacted.”
From this particular year, they will retain the unanimous support of the population during the first wave and the first confinement. The 8 o’clock applause, Béatrice Riu-Poulenc and Muriel Alvarez remember having picked up on her return home after long days of work, both by bike. Like a background noise that carried them. “This encouragement has been good for everyone.”
“And then there were all these donations, these children’s drawings, the pizza delivery men who crowded in front of the hospital. We could feel the mutual aid. Everything was easier, everything went faster to obtain materials, to find the right interlocutors. There will also remain these strengthened links, mutual aid with other hospitals and clinics “, summarizes Dr Riu-Poulenc. “We discovered other people, other professions in the hospital. We are still all in the same boat, but there we have seen it a little more”, adds Dr Alvarez.
The relief of not having been overwhelmed as in the Grand-Est is very palpable. “Fortunately, we have never been in a position to sort patients, to make choices,” said Muriel Alvarez, still happy to have chosen this profession. “At first, it was out of love, to follow my boyfriend from high school who wanted to study medicine. He became my husband, the father of my three children (Dr Philippe Izard is a sports doctor and a doctor at Stade Toulousain, editor’s note I was not wrong! Working as a team, directly in the patient’s bed, that’s all I like, I’m a worker, “says the infectious disease specialist.