Paris (AFP)

Above the bed, small frames enclose radiant memories on an outdated tapestry. Lying down, Jean *, 98 years old, struggles to breathe despite the oxygen mask. Gersende, rescuer at the Civil Protection of Paris, holds her hand: "Ok to go to the hospital?"

"It must be said that it is best for him, even if we may not be able to see him again," convinces one of his sons, his eyes wet.

Gersende, Nathan and Nicolas, Civil Protection rescuers, then carry the nonagenarian on a stretcher, slipped with a thousand precautions in the ambulance, and run a howling siren towards the Georges-Pompidou hospital.

They are among the 32,000 volunteers of "Protec '". When they don’t put on the association’s orange and blue colors, Gersende, 40, is responsible for human resources in a temporary employment agency, Nathan, 22, is an electrical engineer and Nicolas, 20, is a security guard at the university of Nanterre.

"This is not the first time that we have experienced this situation, but with all the relatives who are there, some are crying, it is never easy," said Gersende, upon returning from the intervention. "The hardest part is not the trash, the blood, but the emotional side", supports Nathan, hands on the wheel.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, the Civil Protection intervenes in reinforcement of the Samu with other associations of which the Red Cross and the Order of Malta, and crosses the streets of Paris day and night.

Trained in first aid, its volunteers take the "constants" (pulse, tension, frequency and respiratory amplitude, temperature) of the victims, can oxygenate them with masks and "stretcher" if a transfer to the hospital is necessary.

However, they do not have the equipment to intubate and ventilate the sick. "For the most serious cases, vital distress, you need a doctor. It is reserved for the Samu," explains Gersende.

- "Better days" -

In recent days, calls for "covid suspicions" have become more rare on their radio, around three to four per guard, a sign that the peak of the epidemic may be behind them.

"Last week, we didn't stop, we could do up to eight interventions over 12 hours," reports Gersende. A steady rhythm, since the complete disinfection with bleach of the ambulance nibbles about twenty minutes after each intervention.

Sometimes their movement is mainly used to reassure patients, like this couple in their fifties, who called 15 on the advice of their attending physician.

The woman says she has lost smell for more than two weeks, has a mild dry cough, headache and neck pain. At her side, her husband explains that he has "trouble breathing deeply" and that he is "short of breath after three seconds" of effort.

"There is nothing alarming, you will not go to the hospital. Tell your doctor and if it gets worse, do not hesitate to call 15," reassures Gersende.

Their last intervention is more worrying. Julie *, 33, is huddled under her duvet, shaken by a violent cough. Nicolas ties a mask to his face. Her voice almost quenched, she nods at the questions with her thumb.

Very weak, she is unable to stand. Rescuers must evacuate him in a wheelchair from his small studio to the ambulance for his transfer to the emergency room at Lariboisière hospital.

Before leaving, Gersende warns the young woman's family, at their request. At the end of the phone, a worried mother. "Unfortunately, I can't tell you when your daughter can get back to you," said the rescuer.

In the entrance, a friend's little note sits on a row of books. "Not easy to be sick and confined," he writes, hoping that this word will bring him "a little balm in the heart" before promising "better days when we will tell our lives on the terrace".

© 2020 AFP