It’s February 2020 and I find myself in New Zealand burying my mother. When my leave is up, I walk back into my role and find myself setting up all the COVID systems. It’s early days and we are positively scared and exceedingly careful. Cleaning down surfaces; signing in and out of our work area and tearooms; putting mobile phones into plastic bags that can be wiped down; taking a change of clothes to work so we can change before travelling home; and putting our clothes straight into the washing machine when we get there and going straight into the shower.
The testing regimes begin and we reassure ourselves that we can detect patients who are positive and protect ourselves, our patients, our families and each other from potential death. The fear of death is very acute in the early days but it becomes more tolerable each day.
Work colleagues cease to be recognisable when they are wearing a mask—at first a surgical mask and then the dreaded N95—then the face shield and plastic gown. Our will to live is sapped as we sweat through another shift, unable to drink, eat or go to the toilet without a full strip down of all the PPE followed by a scrub down before we put it all back on again for the other half of our shift. We go home dehydrated and with pounding headaches.
Stories start of colleagues shunting their families to other family members so they don’t go home and infect their loved ones. We are all limiting our contact with friends, family and colleagues so we don’t catch it or pass it on. We have teams working in separate areas in readiness for when the ward finally turns COVID positive.
Lining up at the supermarket—a trolley length from any other person—my blood pressure goes up when I see people deliberately not wearing masks or maintaining their distance. We go to work and sweat under PPE, putting our lives at risk, while Joe Public remains careless and carefree. Resentment builds. It feels like us versus everyone else.
With time comes relief. A couple of vaccines have been developed. Hope exists and staff line up as never before to get ‘the jab’: AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna. I, for one, have now had five of these and have not yet experienced an infection.
We have lived through the pointy end of the pandemic—but it is not over. Just today on the news I hear that another wave of COVID could be on its way. Please no—just when we have been able to go down a layer of mask to a regular surgical mask.
May we all never have to experience anything like this pandemic again.