French healthcare worker: I try not to bring COVID home

French anaesthesiologist Caroline Tesse, 34, works in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated at Cambrai hospital, France

At work, Caroline Tesse, an anaesthesiologist in northern France, is helping her patients make it through the COVID-19 epidemic. In the meantime, her own life is on hold.

Tesse, 34, cannot book a Christmas break this year because it’s unclear when she’ll be needed at the hospital and she lives in fear that her parents — her main childcare providers — could get infected with the virus.

“I know very well that if my parents fall ill I would never forgive myself,” she said at her dining room table as her daughter coloured in a picture.

While attention in the COVID-19 epidemic has been focussed on the toll from the novel coronavirus on patients, Tesse’s story reveals the hidden toll on professionals and their families who have had to re-organise their lives.

On a shift at Cambrai hospital, Tesse snatches a spare few minutes to make a video call to her youngest child, 18-month-old Rose, who is at home with her husband, David, also a medical professional.

“How are you? It’s mummy,” she said to Rose. But the conversation was interrupted when her work phone rang. “I’m coming right now,” she said to the colleague on the other end, before quickly wrapping up the call with her daughter.

“See you tomorrow,” she said, blowing kisses.

She has two other children, a six-year-old son and a daughter who is four. When she’s at home, she said, she tries to leave work behind. “I avoid having my phone when I’m with the children,” she said.

France is now in a second COVID-19 wave, and Tesse and her colleagues are focussing on dealing with that. She said she was hoping that in February she may be able to go on a skiing holiday with the family.

“But I ‘m not telling the children because I’m not at all sure,” she said. “Things are still up in the air, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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