The pandemic has naturally been very hard on both my mental and physical health as a front-line healthcare worker. When the pandemic began, we did not know much about COVID-19 and how it was transmitted. I got COVID at the very beginning of the pandemic, in March ‘20, while working. It was difficult, because we weren’t sure about the symptoms and what qualified as COVID back then. I felt unwell but not displaying classic symptoms and felt conflicted about working as I was needed, but was concerned that I may put other staff and patients at risk by doing so. I wasn’t sure if I had to stay at home, but there was an expectation to come to work, and I would have felt bad about not doing my duty. So I felt very torn, there was guilt and concern. As healthcare workers, we have a strong work ethic and often work even when we are not feeling well, putting clinical care first. A consultant colleague felt I was exhibiting symptoms of covid, and that I shouldn’t come to work. Hence, I stayed at home and proceeded to become very unwell. It was stressful because I lived with my parents and wasn’t sure how I was going to self-isolate and was worried about putting them at risk. There was added stress at the start of the lockdown, back when we weren’t sure how we were going to access food and essentials and all that, it was a very tough time.  

Things were very busy, and we were coming to our peak at the hospital; there was an expectation to return to work after 7 days illness for the national effort, I did so even though I was so tired and still recovering. I had lost a lot of weight in that week. It was a struggle, but we were expected to do what we could to help front line. 

Many of the patients were quite unwell, and in the high dependency area I was working in, most of them sadly died. The hospitals across the country weren’t prepared for something so unprecedented. We were limited when it comes to supplies of drugs. There were shortages, concerns about the availability of oxygen, ventilators and staffing. 

For healthcare workers, it was about survival. It wasn’t easy watching patients deteriorate and die, we’d spend hours in full PPE and we didn’t know when we were going to have the time to eat, drink, go to the bathroom.  We were supposed to be socially distanced in communal areas but there was a lack of space. So a lot of staff were inadvertently passing COVID to each other. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had trouble sleeping and suffered from anxiety but like most of the staff, we all kind of just pushed through, because what else could we do? 

I felt quite numb. I couldn’t relate to the people living outside the hospital. The rest of the world in lockdown didn’t know what was happening, apart from the often frightening images they saw on TV.

Even my parents would find it difficult to understand what I was experiencing. They had no clue. They couldn’t relate to the day I had. The things I have seen and heard, I can’t unsee them, I can’t unhear them, I can’t forget them. The noises, the sounds of patients, the groaning. Patients trying to hold onto you for reassurance, and the terror in their eyes.

I’d journey home on deserted trains. You could recognize the healthcare workers from the limited travellers, way they looked, how tired they were. I’d often cry on the train on the way home. During the first wave, there were days where I didn’t know if I’d come home and be able to eat and sleep. But you just didn’t have the time to worry about yourself.

The pandemic also made interacting with patients quite hard. If you think about the way we were dressed, in full PPE, we looked a bit alien-like. I have seen many patients who were so unwell, and who I knew were deteriorating. I remember there was a pregnant lady who was sick with covid. She was very unwell and scared she told us; if it comes to choosing between saving the baby’s life or mine, I want you to choose my life. She said “I have three other children at home who need me. I need to come back home to them.” It’s so awful that she even had to think about that, and it really stuck with me. From a professional perspective, we need to give patients encouragement and hope which is quite difficult when we wore PPE and non-verbal communication was limited. It’s also hard to reassure patients when we ourselves didn’t know what was going to happen. 

I enjoy going to the gym and exercising as it helps me regulate stress but I was unable to do so during the pandemic. Something that helped me feel better was taking a break and going on walks at the local Regent’s Park, which was nearby where I worked. There, I’d see flowers. During these times, I wanted to be alone as well, and the simplicity and beauty of nature was a nice thing to have. 

We are still learning from the pandemic and it’s not over. I am proud of the NHS and the healthcare community for standing up to the challenge and trying to meet it head on in whichever way they could. There was and still is a general burnout in the workforce. We work really hard, but we do so because we want to make a difference. I want to keep helping people. 

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