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COVID Christmas in French ICU: Fear, fatigue and loving care

Katy Zalinian places her hand on her cousin who is suffering with COVID-19 and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in...
Katy Zalinian waits to visit her cousin who is suffering with COVID-19 and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the La Timone hospital in Mar...
A religious item left by the family of a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator is pictured at his bedside in the COVID-19 unit at the La Timone hospital in...
A patient with COVID-19 lies on a bed with a ventilator with her son's hat placed on her bed by medical workers at the request of the family, in the i...
Amelie and Ludo Khayat hold each other during a visit at the COVID-19 intensive care unit of the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Thu...
Medical workers turn over a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern Fran...
Radiographer Coralie Gil prepares to enter the room of a COVID-19 patient in the COVID-19 continued care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, ...
A religious depiction left by the family of a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator is pictured in the COVID-19 unit at the La Timone hospital in Marseille...
Nurses Marc Gabriel and Ludivine Souilleux take a break in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, F...
Medical workers tend to a patient suffering with COVID-19 and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, south...
Medical workers have a break in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Dec. 24, 2021. (AP P...
Ester Sebbagh spends time with her husband David, a 52 year old patient with COVID-19 during a visit in the COVID-19 continued care unit at the la Tim...
A nurse makes a chocolate sandwhich in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Dec. 24, 2021...
Hospital worker Sonia Mokhtari prepares a Christmas Eve dinner in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern Fr...
Hospital workers place gifts under a christmas tree in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, D...
Nurse Medina Bengler feeds a patient with COVID-19 in the COVID-19 continued care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday...
Hospital worker Sonia Mokhtari sets up a Christmas tree for a Christmas Eve meal in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseill...
Christmas songs are left playing on a computer in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Dec. 2...
Junior doctor Tom Ballas looks into the room of a patient as doctors and nurses share a Christmas Eve meal together in the COVID-19 intensive care uni...
A hospital worker walks through the COVID-19 intensive care unit before a Christmas Eve meal at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Frid...
An empty bed in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. Marseille's La Timo...
Doctors and nurses share a Christmas Eve meal together in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday...

Katy Zalinian places her hand on her cousin who is suffering with COVID-19 and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in...

Katy Zalinian waits to visit her cousin who is suffering with COVID-19 and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the La Timone hospital in Mar...

A religious item left by the family of a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator is pictured at his bedside in the COVID-19 unit at the La Timone hospital in...

A patient with COVID-19 lies on a bed with a ventilator with her son's hat placed on her bed by medical workers at the request of the family, in the i...

Amelie and Ludo Khayat hold each other during a visit at the COVID-19 intensive care unit of the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Thu...

Medical workers turn over a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern Fran...

Radiographer Coralie Gil prepares to enter the room of a COVID-19 patient in the COVID-19 continued care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, ...

A religious depiction left by the family of a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator is pictured in the COVID-19 unit at the La Timone hospital in Marseille...

Nurses Marc Gabriel and Ludivine Souilleux take a break in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, F...

Medical workers tend to a patient suffering with COVID-19 and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, south...

Medical workers have a break in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Dec. 24, 2021. (AP P...

Ester Sebbagh spends time with her husband David, a 52 year old patient with COVID-19 during a visit in the COVID-19 continued care unit at the la Tim...

A nurse makes a chocolate sandwhich in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Dec. 24, 2021...

Hospital worker Sonia Mokhtari prepares a Christmas Eve dinner in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern Fr...

Hospital workers place gifts under a christmas tree in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, D...

Nurse Medina Bengler feeds a patient with COVID-19 in the COVID-19 continued care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday...

Hospital worker Sonia Mokhtari sets up a Christmas tree for a Christmas Eve meal in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseill...

Christmas songs are left playing on a computer in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Dec. 2...

Junior doctor Tom Ballas looks into the room of a patient as doctors and nurses share a Christmas Eve meal together in the COVID-19 intensive care uni...

A hospital worker walks through the COVID-19 intensive care unit before a Christmas Eve meal at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Frid...

An empty bed in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. Marseille's La Timo...

Doctors and nurses share a Christmas Eve meal together in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Friday...

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — From the intensive care ward in France where he is spending the holidays, COVID-19 patient David Daniel Sebbagh said he has one overriding regret: that he didn’t get vaccinated.

“The vaccine, it’s not a danger," the 52-year-old said as he lay in a Marseille hospital. “It’s choosing life.”

The ICU's chief doctor, Dr. Julien Carvelli, is trying to keep his team motivated as they spend another Christmas tending to patients on breathing machines, periodically flipping them back to front, front to back.

The staff is tired, the omicron variant is bearing down, and the unit's beds are filling fast. “We’re afraid we won’t have enough space,” Carvelli said.

Marseille’s La Timone Hospital, one of France’s biggest hospitals, has weathered wave after wave of COVID-19. On Christmas Eve, medical personnel decorated a fir tree in the corridor and seized a moment for a communal meal in their scrubs, trying to maintain a semblance of holiday spirit in between rounds.

The hospital allows families to visit gravely ill loved ones in the ICU, as long as they’re careful. Amelie Khayat has paid daily visits to her husband, Ludo, 41, who spent 24 days in a coma and on a breathing machine. The couple touched heads as she sat on his bed. Now strong enough to stand, he stood to give her a farewell hug.

In a nearby room, a 40-year-old patient lay unconscious near death, with her young son’s winter hat placed on her belly. In another, a relative had left a Christian icon propped on a patient’s tray.

Down the hall, Katy Zalinian waited anxiously to visit her cousin. She later entered his room wearing full protective gear and touched her hand lovingly to his leg.

While some 90% of French adults are vaccinated against the coronavirus and some 40% have received a booster shot, most of the COVID-19 patients in La Timone’s ICU are unvaccinated.

“I regret it, a lot, a lot, a lot,” patient Sebbagh said. “I let myself get caught up in things. I thought that the vaccine was not necessarily something good.”

He recalled that when his COVID-19 symptoms were at their worst, “I didn’t know where I was going. Nothing was clear in my head....I waited for hours and I was in pain.”

Sebbagh's wife, Esther, described her terror: “Our life was shattered this week... I believed I would lose him.”

He’s still testing positive for the virus and says that all that matters now is trying to recover.

“If I had been vaccinated, I wouldn’t have been in such a level of intensive care," he said. "The vaccine is not a danger but a possibility to escape, to avoid something more serious.”

France now is seeing its highest daily infection rates of the pandemic as the omicron variant races around the country. Carvelli, the ICU chief in Marseille, worries hospitals could soon be “overwhelmed.”

“We’re already in a situation of tension, with very few available spaces,” he said. “We’re sick of this. We’re always focused on doing our jobs the best way possible...but the more this goes on, the more tired people get.”

Two things are making this Christmas especially challenging, Carvelli said. More and more staff members are testing positive in the current omicron surge and therefore unavailable to work. And some colleagues are leaving the profession altogether because of the strain.

“We still try to have little special moments during the workday, or night, to get together to celebrate,” he said. “It’s strange for the patients, too, who are deprived of Christmas.”

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Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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Follow AP's pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic


Updated : 2022-05-26 07:30 GMT+08:00