Normally, Bakary Meite is a professional rugby player. Normally, he plays in ProD2, in Carcassonne. Normally, it is third row. But today, nothing is completely normal. He signed up for the Covid19 crisis and is on the front line. With his weapons: a sponge, a broom and his courage. He is an honorary maintenance officer at Sainte-Perine Hospital (Paris 16th). Between pride and humility.
Bakary, did you work on Monday?
Yes, I worked. I started at 7:30 am. When I get home at 2 p.m., I take a nap. I’m not a big sleeper usually. But we get up early and it’s pretty physical. I walk almost 10 km in the hallways of the hospital, 13,000 steps to be exact.
How did you end up working in a Paris hospital?
I heard about it from a family member. The hospital was looking for people to do the cleaning, because this is a very difficult time for them. There was a lack of people. People refuse to come to work. There are sick people. And then there are people who are simply afraid. Coming to work at the hospital is not easy.
And why did you decide to volunteer?
Credit goes to my nephew, Zakaria, who had the idea first. I did it out of solidarity. To him, first. And to the nursing staff, then. These are decisions we make without really thinking. It was done on a whim, without knowing in which hospital, without knowing how, or where. Questions come after. At first, I agreed to do it because in my head, I said to myself: “If it can help the nursing assistants to do it, it’s great”.
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What exactly are you doing
So when I got there eight days ago, I got a bucket and some disinfectant. I soak rags, about 40 or 50 in the product, in the basement. And there I attack. There are several buildings: Rossini, Saint-Perine and Chardon. I disinfect everything in two of the three buildings. I clean everything that is close at hand. Ramps, switches, door handles, windows, window towers … On each floor there are three houses. A house is about ten rooms. And nursing stations. Between each house, there is a small living room, where families gathered. Now it’s empty. Rossini and Sainte-Perine are geriatrics and gerontology. Visits have been banned for weeks. In Sainte-Perine, it’s much bigger. On each floor there are four services. And there, it’s almost 25 rooms per service. I do not enter the rooms if the door is closed. But if it’s open, I also do the bedroom door handles and the switch.
You don’t consider it a degrading profession …
No. It’s not degrading. Because it was my mom’s job for 30 years. Quite honestly, it’s hard. But I get so much thanks from the caregivers … It’s very rewarding. The roles are reversed. In the current situation, they are relieved and I feel like I’m doing something crazy. They can devote themselves to their job. So I feel useful. That’s it, actually: I feel useful.
Do you feel like you are on the front line?
It’s undeniable. People talk about me, but in the end, I’m not much. I work with people who do this all their lives. These are people who are all of foreign origin and they are on the front line. This is France. They arrive in the morning very early. They are in contact with patients. I have colleagues, with the cart, they go straight into the rooms. They are in direct contact with patients. They are equipped, but they are clearly on the front line.
Are there things that marked you?
What strikes me the most? I see a lot of things … I see a lot of things that have marked me, in the attitude of caregivers, nurses, doctors. There is talk of a shortage of masks, missing gowns, the “white plan” which means that they will not have a vacation for months. And then there are the patients. There are people in very bad shape. You see things, you hear noises. Sounds I never expected to hear. It’s almost no longer human. People are suffering. The top floor is palliative care. There are groans, crying, groans, faces distorted by pain. It’s hard. I came into a room and felt like it was empty. And at the second glance, only, I saw a woman so small, so curled up behind her tablet, that she had almost disappeared. I see envelopes, boxes “Covid 19 test” … It is not already an easy service. But there, with the health crisis, it is very hard. But around me, I see people who really manage. It’s incredible ! You come back the next day and the patient is better.
Will this experience change you?
I don’t know if this will change me. But there are things I can never forget. The hospital is never really funny. But there, going there every day is another world. So, yes, I think it can change a man.
Are people afraid around you?
There is frustration, it is not always possible to see the family. There is fear with the lack of protection. But there is an incredible determination. They do their job. In my service, there are only people of African origin, very believers. And it plays. Somewhere, we’re on a mission. What I need to do is disinfect to prevent germs and germs. It’s my mission. There are patients who are better than others and who move. And when I see a patient using the ramp, I say to myself: there you go, I use that. It’s a mission. And I am proud to do what I do. I think I’m doing something useful. Something good.
Do you have a message to convey?
Already, that I am not the only one to do things. The world of rugby is involved, at different levels. And it makes me proud too. Then I would really like to pay tribute to my colleagues at the hospital. And great respect for the nursing staff. I take my hat off to them. I am passing by and they will still be there. These teams did not wait for a health crisis to do all of this.
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