Why was naming your action so important?
It was even crucial, because it allowed the beginning of awareness. We gradually understand what we experience on a daily basis. Some people told me, but I didn’t hear them. Identifying yourself as a caregiver is an essential first step. First, in his own eyes! This legitimizes your actions towards society and helps limit the feeling of incomprehension or loneliness.
Ironically, you were a medical student at the time…
Yes, but I believe that I was above all his son, I had difficulty accepting what I observed. I was 24 years old and I had come to medical school in a long way. I wanted to pursue this profession since primary school. But in my family, of which I am very proud, we become dockers by tradition: my father, my brother and almost all my uncles. Being a doctor seemed impossible for my father to imagine: a dockworker’s son would become a dockworker. For him, you had to have a father who was a doctor to become one yourself.
So you became a docker?
Yes, on my 18th birthday, October 14, a Saturday, I hired for the first time. A fine drizzle drowned the port of Le Havre. I remember my father’s pride, the kindness of his colleagues, their kindness. However, I didn’t feel like I belonged. So, despite my technological baccalaureate, I enrolled in the faculty of biology, because it was the closest thing to medicine. For five years, I worked all week, weekends and holidays at the port, and ran at university. My fellow dockers affectionately nicknamed me “Bacplus”! They always encouraged me. I tell it with a smile now, but it was really hard! I worked 80 to 90 hours a week. It was necessary to lift the 50 kg bags of sugar from the holds or rub them to dislodge the coal. I sometimes came out with black nostrils! After these tiring years, I took another path and became a sales manager for a pharmaceutical laboratory.
Did you then give up on your dream of becoming a doctor?
I believed it, but in the hospitals I went to for my work, I passionately listened to the doctors talking about operations and I envied the badge worn by the interns! I told my parents about it, they took out a loan. They believed in me. (He is moved). And I was able to enroll in the medical faculty of Rouen.
At the same time, I worked as a dockworker on weekends or occasionally.
Your mother’s illness broke out while you were in your third year of university?
Yes, it was an intense few years, I couldn’t fail an exam. And yet, it became clear to my brother, my father and me that my mother needed assistance for five, ten or twenty years. Being a helper consists of this: each day thwarting an obstacle that the illness puts in the way, inventing, moving forward, holding on until the next day… then starting again. You feel exhausted, but a smile, a small victory, a fleeting glance makes you return to the fight. (He pauses, his eyes glaze over). Today, I tell some of my patient caregivers: “Don’t push yourself to the limit.”
What was your life like?
A real race against time. A timed life. For fourteen years, I had no holidays or evenings, no cinema (you can’t pick up a possible urgent call in the dark rooms) and little leisure time. It’s an exhausting, quite lonely daily life, which takes its toll without us realizing it.
… A sacrifice?
My personal life found itself on hold, like that of my brother. When you become a caregiver, whatever you do, even if you are 500% committed, you feel guilty about not doing enough. I grew up very quickly, I became the parent of my parents, I lost carelessness and lightness, I joined a private club that few people can understand. I felt out of step with people my age. I experienced a constant feeling of gravity, but I also developed adaptation and communication skills… Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything I accomplished. Except, perhaps, to welcome the support of others more easily. Because the hardest thing for a caregiver is to accept being supported yourself. To stop pretending everything is okay while you’re crying inside.
My father didn’t want outside support. He found everything he did normal and did not realize his exhaustion. In this kind of situation, we are afraid of disturbing others with our worries. However, you should not wait too long to ask for aid, even if it is scattered and not easily accessible, because it sometimes takes months to put in place.
What do you want to say to caregivers?
You, the eleven million family caregivers, constitute an essential link in our health system. Without you, hospitals and doctors’ offices would be overwhelmed. You have fantastic listening, attention and organizational skills… What you achieve is incredible! You are the everyday heroes. Stop feeling guilty: you are already doing everything you can and I say “well done”! What seems normal to you is not, be proud of it. But, above all, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Take time for yourself, to take care of your health, to not isolate yourself…
nineteen eighty one Born in Le Havre (Seine-Maritime).
1999 Docker in the port of Le Havre.
2012 Begins first year of internship.
2015 Defends his medical thesis.
2020 Starts at Telematin.
2022 His mother died on April 21, his father on June 9.