Coronavirus: how frontline NHS medics are coping
An emergency doctor, a general practitioner and a mental health nurse reflect on the challenges they are facing in their daily work and outline how public support is sustaining their morale and combating the spread of the disease
Produced and edited by James Sandy; motion graphics by Victor Diaconescu; additional footage from Reuters
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My name is Matt. I am working in an A&E department.
My name is Jadwiga. I'm a mental health nurse.
I'm a GP in Nottingham.
The department is actually physically changing, so A&E no longer looks like the A&E that I'm used to. They've partitioned off the A&E so that there's now what we call a corona area and a non-corona area, to try and keep contamination at a minimum. Obviously that poses some significant challenges in itself, as A&Es fundamentally aren't... were never designed for this.
There are lots of staff who are working in very different ways, either remotely or we've had to tell people they can't be at work because either they're at risk or they're not actually essential. They can be at home, and for lots of staff that's really upsetting because they want to be helping, they want to be here. And not being there, there've been a lot of tears, and that's been really difficult.
Our main focus was so far more on mental health, and now we have to focus a bit more on physical health as well, which is a challenge in itself as we are not really equipped for this level of care.
You know, there's stories about a doctor who's on full life support. There's a nurse in her... with relatively few health complaints, that is on ventilation, on life support, as well. And when you hear stories amongst colleagues they scare you.
In terms of the stress levels, they're extremely high. I know that lots of us aren't really sleeping, waking very frequently, worrying about things. The first thing you think about when you wake up is the coronavirus.
Mentally, what impact it will have on me, on my colleagues, whether we will be as resilient as we are now, and whether we will have enough staff actually to care for patients. So these are the questions I have been asking myself more and more.
Now so my... now I go home in the evening and I think about the patients I've spoken to and the decisions that I've made as safe as possible. In two weeks' time I fear that the burden on me won't be about that. It'd be about the decisions that I've made to say to people, actually I'm afraid you can't go to hospital and there is no treatment.
It's just a case of... we just don't have the equipment and the staffing to support you anymore. You've been, unfortunately, there's nothing more we can do. So, there's going to be some pretty difficult situations, pretty difficult conversations. And I feel that the worst is yet to come, unfortunately.
The best way for me is to admit that I am only a human being, so all these anxiety, frustrations, and anger and fear are present in me. I cannot escape or pretend or deny that they are not there. What I can do is to be aware that they are and do what I can to my best ability.
My wife is a consultant paediatrician, and I'm a GP, and as different as we are in the work, I think we're different in personality as well. So I'm a pretty brainless optimist, generally. My wife is absolutely the opposite. So we do chat about things.
A lot of doctors don't live with other doctors and don't have that option, and I guess we're able to bounce our concerns and worries off each other. And anything that's particularly affected us during the day or during the shift, we can discuss with each other and try and reassure each other and calm each other down. There are patients that are dying, and I guess it helps... it is helpful being able to discuss that with each other. I guess we should feel lucky for that, which a lot of doctors and healthcare workers don't have that option at the moment.
We try and do normal things as much as possible, actually. When you get home at the end of the day, you're been on your phone a lot, and it can be all-consuming, basically, but having just that sense of normality, things that are reassuring at these times is really, really key. And that's how we're trying to manage things.
There's lots of nice things being done. We're getting food, random food deliveries to the A&E department from the local food suppliers. We're getting lots of nice messages and lots of support from the public in general. My phone is probably the busiest it's ever been with just general messages from my friends saying, keep going, you're doing a great job. So, yeah, we're doing our bit, and we're trying to stay positive. It's the little things that get you through the shift, I guess.
Just the fact that, for example, I can go to Costa cafe and get a cup of coffee for free, which is, yay, a great thing. And, you know, watching a lot of positive examples from the news and a lot of people are ready to help and support the NHS is a great motivation.
The public reaction and the amounts of support that the NHS is getting is really, really humbling, and it really does make a difference to me. I think over the last few weeks I have never felt as valued, and I'm waking up feeling enthused and looking forward to going to work to do as best I can.
What I find truly helpful is that the attitude within the society and public has changed to be more respectful of the requirements. So I feel safe that I am not exposed to crowds on the bus.
Stay at home, and if you've got people who you're doing shopping for, doorstep drop. Drop it on the doorstep. Don't go in. Don't go in. Drop it on the doorstep. When you're calling your GP or you're dealing with NHS staff, please bear in mind that they're under enormous pressure, and they're trying to do the best things for you.
These are unprecedented times, and things will continue to change as we learn more. Because at the moment we don't have a lot of evidence. We don't have a lot of experience with this new virus, so things that help us as doctors and as a health care service is just people being vigilant and following what guidance there is out there. That will help us.