I’m sitting on my couch, miserably binge-watching TV. Bridgerton is done. The gilded age is over. I’m about to start a series that makes me a little apprehensive: This England, a semi-fictionalised look at how Boris Johnson’s government led Britain through the early months of COVID.
A fall walking my dog has left me with a fractured wrist and ankle. I’m feeling so guilty as I look at my phone and see the emails and Teams messages between colleagues as another COVID wave washes over.
I am an infection prevention nurse consultant in a large hospital and we, as a team, across a large network, have ridden this pandemic in different ways to many other nurses and midwives, constantly consulting, educating, advising, reassuring, tracing and tracing again in a world that is rapidly changing its parameters.
Two years before my fall, in the early stages of COVID before the central tracing teams were operational, I went out with refugee and community nurses to interview people with COVID in their homes. I loved working with these amazing nurses who saw the world in different ways. The insight I gained into how many households in my outer area functioned was fascinating.
Often, several people in one household were infected with COVID. If you asked the mother if she was okay, the reply was generally along the lines of: ‘No-one here will let me be sick. I have to look after them all!’ Very early on, at a big family home, a pre-schooler with active COVID ran full pelt at me for a hug, runny nose and all. As the child wrapped his arms around my legs, my colleague that day looked at me as is if to say, ‘I hope that yellow gown’s on properly.’
Neighbours would peek through their windows watching me as I put on my PPE behind my car. Getting sunburnt through my visor while interviewing an infected family outside and trying to remove PPE in the wind without contaminating myself are two experiences I never imagined would be part of my nursing journey!
Now on the couch, I’m finding This England riveting and triggering at the same time. The confusion of the early months of the pandemic is perfectly captured by its focus on the efforts of staff in a regional hospital, a nursing home and inside people’s homes during the first wave of COVID. Interspersed clips of news reels from Italy, the USA and the UK itself—much of the same footage we saw in the news here—show the extent of the horror.
But Johnson’s government constantly ignores reality and tries to boost its popularity. It’s harrowing to watch and at times also weirdly fascinating—who knew Boris wandered around 10 Downing Street quoting Shakespeare? It brings back so much of the fear, confusion and fatigue of the early months of COVID, when we all watched and waited to see what would happen here—and my phone ran hot with questions on COVID from family and friends who were looking to me for answers because of my job.
It makes me realise how far we have come from the initial patients who terrified medical staff but who were still all cared for with compassion by nurses, many of whom volunteered in the early days, wrapped in full PPE. I’m really proud of how the nurses at my hospital have weathered these challenging times, especially those who set up the first COVID ward from scratch and my colleagues in infection prevention.