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How much is a life worth? of Christian Debry

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Faced with the coronavirus and the containment it causes, Gallimard publishes one or two " Crisis leaflets "signed by the great feathers of the House such as Erik Orsenna, Sylvain Tesson, Cynthia Fleury, Régis Debray or Danièle Sallenave, in order to reflect on the questions raised by the epidemic and to keep the link with the reader. 46 titles have been published to date. UP' has chosen to offer you each day an extract from a selected text and author.

April 8, 2020. 7e floor of the Hautepierre Hospital, University Hospitals of Strasbourg. From the ENT and cervicofacial surgery department. 24th day... Everything was born, like a rumour, far away, in an open market of which nobody knew the name, practising a criminal trade of wild animals, in a country otherwise eager to supplant other nations by sacrificing a little more of the land of men. A biological dust, a Pangolian microbe, one would say if it were not a virus, came to gripe the face of the world, leaving it too little time to defend itself against this abrupt attack. This is how the intense explosion revealed itself, taking its source in the infinitely small, the insignificant, the derisory.

This Covidian rumour was growing, but looking out of the south-facing open window of my office at the veiled relief of the Vosges mountains, nothing could seem more distant, more abstract to me. A bad wind was already blowing that no one could yet really perceive. I could read this rumbling sound. The contradictory analyses of the media were pouring in, searching in the maze of breaking news for a hypothetical way out of the maze to the truth. Scientific alerts with disturbing contents rang in my mailbox with greater force every day, irrigated by the analyses of a few credible specialists who were then given the floor, before they became legions and their legitimacy on the subject was diluted by the number of over-mediatized speakers.

I still had a doubt at that distant time, and hardly had I begun to form an opinion when the creature swept across Alsace, rushed through the doors and windows and spread throughout the hospital, expelled by touch, the embraces of a religious congregation which, invoking the Lord, received the masterly slap whose breath was not finished spreading.

Nothing about my person or my function could be more insignificant in the governance of the autistic world. A chief of surgery in a university hospital, one of those places in the world where people only talk about money to beg for a little more money for better care, in these places damaged by so many years of oppressive management.

Health, this intangible asset, an inalienable heritage common to all, poorly irrigated by the incessant budget cuts of successive governments, a neglected but always loving mistress, was to return in all its glory to the panic-stricken appeal of her disdainful lover. Her heart is a mesh of the deep convictions of the caretakers whose spider's web, woven by the dispensing of care, the suffering of patients, the constant confrontation with death and hope, has never let go.

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We could feel that bad wind coming, but we still doubted it. The caretakers' bodies were in the mud, but the ground held firm under their feet. So they were able to fight. In unison, staff and institution reacted slowly at first and then, like a mastodon stunned and violated by the initial event, with unusual strength and conviction. They resisted the now signified insignificance with fierce resistance from the outset.

It was first of all a very fast communication within the department to try to slow down the influx of patients in the consultations, to regulate it before stopping everything to avoid as much as possible the spread of the virus. The influx in the intensive care units was only the first signs of the disaster to come, which now had a face: that of five patients with fever, cough, shortness of breath and then of air. And from hour to hour, broadcast by the institution, the raw figures were falling, more and more alarming, of patients hospitalized in a sometimes dramatic state, transferred as quickly as possible to intensive care.

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Christian Debry, "Crisis leaflets" n° 43 - Gallimard, April 10, 8pm

Professor Christian Debry is head of the ENT and Neck and Facial Surgery Department at the University Hospital of Strasbourg. He is the author of " I cut - Twenty-four hours in a surgeon's life " - Editions Stock, 2019

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