Not long after we all stood on our doorsteps and clattered pots and pans during the weekly Clap for Carers in 2020, thunder clouds rolled over.
After the initial outpouring of mass appreciation, doctors became the target of hate from some members of a lockdown-weary public, and as the pandemic dragged on, the anger grew.
In 2021, a patient attacked a GP in Manchester, leaving him with a fractured skull and deep cuts.
And earlier this year, the windows of the Roby Medical Centre in Huyton, Merseyside, were smashed in before the building set alight. It had previously been daubed with racist graffiti.
A new discourse emerged about lazy and work-shy GPs refusing to open their doors. Doctors, who had been mandated by Government to close to reduce infection, were pilloried.
Incensed by this anti-NHS feeling, GP Ellen Welch decided to write a book about the pandemic, to remind people how hard nurses, doctors, paramedics and other staff worked as they carried the public through.
In ‘How the NHS Coped with Covid-19’, Ellen tells the stories of those workers who risked their own health during months of misery to keep the public safe.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I wanted to record history in motion. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event and it was a stressful time; people putting their lives on the line and going to work, unsure whether they were going to catch something that was going to kill them.
‘The NHS was overwhelmed at that point. And there were protesters outside hospitals, criticism of NHS staff in the media, Covid-deniers saying it was all fake. After you had done a long shift on the ICU, that was just a huge slap in the face.
‘There was also lot of misinformation around, so this book gave me a chance to correct that.’
Now, as nurses prepare to go on their biggest strike in 106 years following a battle over pay, we share the stories of the sacrifices just some of the NHS workers made during the coronavirus crisis.
‘I became a patient in my own ICU’
Lisa Cox is a Critical Care Sister based at Lewisham Hospital, London. At the height of the pandemic, she was admitted to her own unit with severe symptoms of Covid-19.
‘I was on nights when Covid-19 hit our hospital; the week of 16 March 2020. We went from a handful of ventilated patients to twenty-six ventilated patients, overflowing from the Intensive Care Unit into the High Dependency Unit and recovery.
We were wearing full PPE and it was incredibly busy. I remember feeling so responsible for all the staff I was asking to double up and work really hard. I recall managers who came in at 7.30am still working at 10pm. Staff turned up from other areas to assist our ICU.
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before but like the troopers we are, we pulled together and fought.
I took a week’s annual leave and on the Friday I developed what felt like a cold. By Sunday I felt ill – I ached from my head to my toes – and by Tuesday I tested positive for Covid-19. I was bedridden and my other half, Joe, was just as ill.
The following day, my friend and colleague Tony, a nurse from my hospital called me. He was shocked at how breathless I was. He told me to come in. I tried to reassure him, but he threatened to call my boss if I didn’t, so I drove to the hospital.
I had a scan and my matron and a consultant came and told me I had Covid-19 pneumonia. I was moved to ICU.
Joe was in tears. He told me that I had looked so weak when leaving he thought he may never see me alive again.
So, I arrived in my own ICU as the patient. I did what I was told. Masks went on, swabs were done, and lines inserted. It was a blur of vital signs and blood gasses, nurses telling me what they were doing and me just letting them get on.
Being nursed on my own unit, I was surrounded by friends, unlike most other patients who were not allowed visitors. I knew I could trust their care, and this reassured me. I never felt scared and I never worried I would die. I had staff bringing me drinks, food they cooked for me, and washing my stuff. I had the banter of friends making me laugh.
But on the other hand, I felt a huge amount of guilt. I knew my friends were upset by my admission; it brought Covid-19 way too close to home. I knew how busy the unit was and I felt bad that I was ill. I felt bad for the nurses who had the added pressure of caring for one of their own.
Luckily, I responded to the treatment and got better. A few days on I had a shower and that was bliss! I rushed to get out of the unit, wanting my colleagues to see me discharged. After five days, I left to a huge standing ovation. I went home to my still-unwell partner and we convalesced together.
I was off sick for about three weeks after getting out of hospital and it was a slow road to recovery after that.
I feel back to my normal self now, and I want to thank the wonderful team I work with – they were amazing. I’ll never get Tony to see that he probably saved my life with just one phone call and a bit of nagging. I probably would have stayed at home and suffered. Who knows what would have happened?
Luckily, I’m still here. My kids still have their mum and my partner his better half. Thanks to a wonderful NHS.’
‘Denying relatives of the dying their last goodbye will haunt me forever’
Matthew Connop is an NHS Security Officer who works at the University Hospital Birmingham Trust.
‘The definition of a Security Officer is someone who is “hired to patrol, guard and protect business, property and people from theft, vandalism and acts of abuse or violence”.
Who would think that you would need security in a hospital? Someone to unlock doors perhaps, or someone to navigate a visitor’s journey? But security – really? Why would we be needed in a hospital?
The Emergency Department is where we spend the majority of our time. People assume it is all drunken louts who can’t handle their alcohol. But that is a misconception.
We interact with different people every single shift. No two days are the same. From dealing with intoxication through drink and drugs, to mental health issues and attempted suicides. From highly delirious elderly people who have become aggressive due to an infection, to patients brought in by police for their own safety.
I have been assaulted, spat at, punched, kicked, bitten. I’ve gone home with black eyes and split lips. On one occasion I was threatened with a golf club and nearly ran over with a car – deliberately – all for doing my job.
Verbal abuse is bad enough, but no one should be physically assaulted simply for trying to do their job and help people.
My medical colleagues also continue to be assaulted on a daily basis. They are sworn at, shouted at and, on occasions, physically assaulted – all for trying to make people better. Unless you work in a hospital setting, you would never believe what goes on.
We also have to attend other wards and departments to assist staff in administering medications such as sedation or simply to escort vulnerable people around the hospital site. Then there is the legal side to our position where, for a number of reasons, a patient may not legally leave or discharge themselves. Sometimes we face a physical struggle to prevent them from leaving.
Some twelve-hour shifts are finished without a break, with hardly anything to drink and sometimes nothing to eat at all. Our pager likes to bleep to alert us to a situation occurring the second our food has pinged finished in the microwave – then it is stab vest on and rush out the door, again.
The awful months of Covid were horrendous for the NHS. Myself and my security colleagues assisted medical staff in transferring intubated patients up to ITU who didn’t know whether they would ever wake up again.
Returning the next night to find out many of these patients hadn’t made it through the night will stay with me for a very long time.
Due to the visiting restrictions put in place by Trust executives following government guidance, we were responsible for denying access to the relatives of dying and deceased patients. Denying them their last goodbye, their final kiss will haunt me forever.
I would never have dreamed that I would need to dress the way I did during the pandemic to be a hospital security officer. Full PPE, respiratory hood, masks, gloves, aprons, plastic shoe socks, arm and leg covers.
The pay is not the greatest and I am routinely assaulted, both verbally and physically, so why do I do it? I love my job and work with some amazing people every day. We have fun, we have laughs, we have tears and we have sadness. But if I can try to keep my colleagues safe while they are trying and help and care for everyone else, then I will continue to do so for as long as I can.’
‘Living with Long Covid is absolutely devastating’
Dr Tracy Briggs, a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Genomic Medicine at The University of Manchester, is still recovering from Covid more than two years later.
‘Until March 2020, I worked full-time as a clinical academic, was a busy mum, commuted to work on my bike and enjoyed rambling and yoga.
Then I developed Covid-19.
Despite attending A&E with significant shortness of breath several times during the initial illness, I did not require hospital admission, so I wasn’t tested for Covid-19, as was the rule at the time.
I was diagnosed with ‘mild’ Covid-19 since I didn’t require admission – although in truth, the 14 days of rigors, night sweats, cough, burning throat, chest pain, palpitations and dysphagia, along with 5kg of weight loss and breathlessness did not feel mild. But of course, I am very grateful to have survived.
I was reviewed seven days into the illness, at which point I was tachycardic (racing pulse), hypertensive (high blood pressure), lymphopenic (low white blood cells) and hyponatraemic (low sodium levels), but my chest X-ray and other bloods were normal and my oxygen levels remained above 92 per cent.
After 14 days, things seemed to ease a little and I came out of isolation in my bedroom and met my family again. Things seemed to be improving until around four weeks later, when the shortness of breath and tachycardia returned with fury. A flight of stairs was a mountain; sitting up to eat a meal at the table – impossible; going out – not an option.
I was scared. I was not getting better within a few weeks, like the guidance implied I should, and I thought I was going crazy.
At first, I rang work every week to extend my return date, but I started to realise this was not realistic. A few months on, after a normal lung and heart scan, I still wasn’t getting better.
My life totally changed. I spent my time in bed or on the sofa. My husband cooked all the meals, did all the housework and all the childcare. That may sound idyllic, but it was awful. I felt utterly useless.
I couldn’t even hold a conversation or make a cup of tea.
Then a friend sent me an article about Covid patients who have symptoms for months which are ‘weird as hell’. I realised there were others who didn’t need hospital admission who had ongoing symptoms like me, and I cried with relief.
I am living with a condition that is not yet understood. It is difficult. I suffer with ongoing tachycardia and breathlessness and have developed new symptoms of recurrent oral and possible esophageal thrush. I’ve coughed up blood, I’ve had acid reflux and chilblains.
Finding ‘the right GP’ really changed how I was able to cope with living through this. I know many fellow long-haulers who have been less fortunate and have experienced repeated medical gas lighting and disbelief of symptoms. I have personally been told on two separate occasions that my symptoms are all anxiety related.
I do not know what the future holds for me. Will I get better? Will I get back to work? Will I walk up the stairs again without thinking Ben Nevis was once easier? What will happen if I contract Covid-19 again?
I have good and bad days, but am stable now. I recently returned to work, just doing a few hours a week from home.
I do hope that the recently released Long Covid NICE guidelines lead to increased care and compassion for all those affected. I hope that clinical services will pull together specialists who can provide the multi-organ follow up that is needed and that this will be accessible throughout the country.
‘I hope that meaningful, individualised rehabilitation will be developed and that patient-centred research is undertaken.
This seems key for those of us already enduring Long Covid but as the pandemic continues, there will undoubtedly be more. If 10 per cent of those affected with Covid-19 develop Long Covid, as some studies suggest, the medical, economic and social costs are colossal.
Certainly personally, living with it, the effects are absolutely devastating.’
You can buy Ellen’s book here.
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