I also ran into Claire while I was in hospital. Remember her? She was part of my surgical team from the original surgeries.
I’ve seen her every time I’ve been in hospital actually, but she wasn’t in seeing me this time.
But I said hi and she came over to have a chat. I got that feeling again – excited, like being in hospital was just an opportunity to catch up with old friends. We debriefed on everything that has been going on in the last year.
Both with me and my travels and with them and… Well… Covid, really. And trying to keep functioning alongside it.
They were obviously on a different ward now – T7 not T6. Up one floor. But I found out that they had actually moved hospital entirely for a while, through the worst of the first wave. I can’t imagine how disrupting that must have been. Trying to do surgery and not knowing where everything is or how everything runs. Having to teach new support staff all the things that are usually done by rote, without a second thought. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about.
But the show needed to go on, didn’t it. People needed their operations. So Head and Neck all left the building for a few months to hopefully avoid the Covid as cases in the main hospital rose.
Wards were full. People were being ventilated all over the place. Like… really. Serious stuff.
When I arrived back in London a few weeks ago, my Uber driver on the way home from the airport was telling me that Covid is purely political. He was telling me that the doctors actually say that we shouldn’t be isolating and wearing masks because it doesn’t do anything. It’s all just a way for politicians to keep us controlled.
I can sort of understand why he might think that is preferable to believe, rather than truly accepting the extent of it. He showed me a video of some head doctor of some doctor association saying that it’s all been blown out of proportion. That it’s not actually scary. That we’re all safe. It’s just politics we should be scared of. I can understand in some small way why he wanted to believe it. She seems so trustworthy. She has an impressive title. Blaming politicians feels like something tangible, rather than believing we are in a situation we can’t understand or properly control.
I thought of this while I was talking to Claire. While she told me how horrible it all was back when things were close to breaking point in the first wave. And my heart broke for all the health care workers who were faced with this every day and still have to hear people telling them that it’s not serious. Still have to see people not taking restrictions seriously. Still have to live with housemates that they can’t control how careful they are being…
The hospitals must have felt like war zones. With invisible killers zooming around that you can’t see, can’t ward against. You just have to hope your armour is good enough. But I also heard horror stories of some hospitals not having appropriate armour available to them.
Could you imagine the anxiety?
Could you imagine functioning at such a high level of anxiety for so long?
We’re not built to be in that state of threat for such extended periods of time.
I’ve had my own long nights in the ward. I could picture what it might have been like during that time. In my mind it is cinematic. A dim half light. The rhythmic hissing sound of the ventilators, raising and lowering in volume as the machines cycle through. The oxygen being added to the gas mix, providing a background to the rhythmic chorus. Hushed whispers, concerned glances, nurses shuffling around trying not to dwell for too long on any one person. Just think of it as a job. If you think of them all as people, how will you cope with it all?
It wouldn’t have been cinematic of course, it would have been deeply saddening and terrifying. It still is.
How could anyone working in those wards not develop PTSD? Even those who weren’t working directly in it were exposed to it… Are we going to see loads of healthcare professionals leaving the field after this because they are just burned out?
Shall we just all say a thanks to them all? Wherever you all are, just take a little moment to send your gratitude out into the universe, to every healthcare worker. To the people who keep going in to care for the ill, while the rest of us (me, anyway) could stay in the comfort of my home, safely isolating. Unless I’m in hospital, then they care for me too.
And to every healthcare worker who reads this, thank you. For pushing through the hard times. We appreciate it. And I hope you’re feeling like you’re supported. You don’t have to ‘be strong’, it’s ok to admit you’re finding it hard. And it’s ok for it to hit you at any time. But it’s not ok to be struggling alone. I know there are some resources and charities providing psychological support to medical professionals at the moment. Reach out if you need it. Sometimes you need to be looked after too.