The Covid-19 frontline: diary of a respiratory doctor

Part 3

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

8 June 2020

More stories from the frontline

Dear all, I hope you have all enjoyed the rare spell of sunshine we have been experiencing over the last week (using safe measures of course – unless you need your eyesight checked in a castle or something). Here follows the next instalment of my experience of this pandemic through the eyes of an NHS worker.

The bad bits

  • Sunshine has an innate ability to make humans forget their troubles. For most of us this is a welcome relief during these challenging times. For us NHS workers – we know fully well what lies behind the rose-tinted sunglasses is an ongoing pandemic. We hope everyone is continuing to support each other and keeping each other safe so that this effort was not in vain. That will ring truer than any clapping.
  • Our rotas have changed 6 times since the pandemic started. This has led to cancelled leave and little rest time. Many of us are working extra shifts (each 12/13 hours long) for no extra pay (that is after our pay has consistently fallen in real term for 11 years). Some of us have been living away from our partners and children since March. The emotional and physical toil has been unbearable for a few – and disregarded for most. The lockdown may end around July for the public – but this sentence will not end for us for many months to come.
  • Some of our Muslim colleagues have been fasting and working intense shifts for the last month during Ramadan. No food, no water, no rest – and all with a big smile and an even bigger heart. I don’t know how they do it – I would be a threat to myself and others if I wasn’t allowed a snack every two hours! I would like to thank them all.
  • Thousands of patients are still having to say goodbye to relatives over video calls. We may be saving lives but we are definitely breaking the hearts of so many loving families. The guilt is intolerable at times. I had to watch a lovely man slowly die of cancer that had invaded his heart muscle. His wife had to make the awful decision not to visit as she herself had chronic lung disease. I watched (helplessly as he did not want to be resuscitated) as he flit in and out of cardiac arrest over my night shift – without his wife to hold – until his final breath. I carry dozens more of these harrowing moments on my shoulders every day. We all do.

The good bits

  • We have been able to open a couple more wards as ‘non-COVID’ wards as the sheer numbers of COVID patients requiring hospital admissions start to fall. As such, elective procedures and more urgent outpatient appointments are going to re-commence.
  • It was Eid – the end celebration of Ramadan this last week. Thousands of Muslim NHS staff have done tremendously to celebrate at home, not going to the mosque, and forgoing visiting family. This is Muslim ‘Christmas’ if you will – imagine that without your family. Eid wins on the weather front though!
  • Hundreds of companies and volunteers have flooded us with offers of making masks, scrub bags and mask clips to save our ears. We are floored by the generosity. For example, my wedding dress designer has offered to make surgical gowns all the way from India!
  • Many patients who have spent months in ICU are being stepped down to medical wards to receive rehab prior to discharge from hospital. A stay in intensive care has been likened to torture if compared with the WHO definition. Our patients are often in a coma, paralysed, and unable to consent to or comprehend the interventions they require to live. Many of our patients have PTSD, lose significant muscle function, lose their hair, lose their voice. And now, slowly but surely, they are walking out of hospital – with a grand standing ovation from all the medical staff who have come to know them. We are so impressed by their resilience, so proud of their resolve, and so hopeful that they continue to live happy and healthy lives.

One of my consultants is convinced that their chicken has COVID. Apparently, the chicken has a hacking cough. Begs the question – what came first? The chicken or the…

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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