The Covid-19 frontline: diary of a respiratory doctor

Part 1

Dr Neda Hasan (DH 2008), a respiratory doctor at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, shares stories from the frontline against the virus.

20 May 2020

Stories from the frontline

As a Respiratory Registrar, I am very much in the thick of things during this pandemic.

Every day I am confronted with the harsh consequences of this novel virus. Thankfully, I am also consistently uplifted by the grit and spirit of my colleagues, and the strength of my patients. These stories deserve to be told, and more importantly, have the power to connect with us all.

Therefore, I am hoping you will allow me to share a few of these tales from the frontline. Hopefully this is not going to hurt, and will read more like Bridget Jones’ Diary – if Bridget was a short, Indian, NHS worker. Oh, and was fond of writing things in bullet points. I should probably start with the bad and end with the good.

The bad bits

  • My nurse has been living apart from her three young daughters for 6 weeks to keep them safe. All the while running the Respiratory Ward with Covid-19 patients sick enough to require high flows of oxygen. Many of my colleagues are enduring similar hardships currently.
  • Two 30-something pregnant women were admitted with Covid-19. They very quickly deteriorated and had to be taken to ICU. They couldn’t even say goodbye to their partners before they were put to sleep on a ventilator.
  • A man was admitted with a total collapse of one lung. All investigations suggested lung cancer. It dawned on me that not only would he hear from me that he had cancer for the first time, he would hear it alone, from a stranger dressed in full and terrifying PPE. His wife wasn’t allowed to visit and I couldn’t hold his hand. To add insult to injury, he was so unstable that he may die overnight, and when I told him – he thanked me for letting him know. I can’t explain how wrong and poignant that feels.
  • We lost one of our universally loved consultants to this dreadful virus. He worked at our hospital for over 20 years and we couldn’t save him. Something small but profound changed in all of us that day.

The good bits

  • The same nurse had the opportunity to meet her daughters for the weekend. More and more staff are getting tested everyday so they can get back to work, live their lives and hug their household members – including me!
  • Both pregnant women gave birth to two healthy babies. They both recovered from their ICU stay and are at home enjoying their new
    families. Unfortunately, neither of the babies were named after me.
  • The man with lung cancer improved with high flow oxygen and steroids and went home to spend the last crucial weeks of his life with his wife. Sometimes we get things right!
  • We have successfully treated a few of our staff including non- clinical staff. A machine called CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) has been crucial in the recovery of hundreds of our patients. This means they haven’t needed sedation, and many have avoided ICU. We aren’t as helpless as we thought.
  • After years, even decades of the NHS being underfunded and underappreciated, we are all united in marvelling at its resilience and inclusivity. Restaurants and shops have been showering us with cooked meals, hand creams, and little gestures of gratitude. We feel genuinely loved. Let’s hope the Government doesn’t forget why a national health service is the backbone to our society.
  • And finally, hospital parking is free! It’s the small things in life…

About Dr Hasan

Dr Hasan (DH 2008) studied Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Maths and AS Level Physics before heading to Imperial College, London to study Medicine. After completing her medical studies, she spent two years at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and Wexham Park Hospital as a Foundation Doctor, moving around departments including adult medicine, neonatology, A&E and surgery. In August 2016 she moved back to the Royal Berkshire as a Core Medical Trainee where she became a Medical Registrar.

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