Diary of a Doctor on the Front Line – Chapter 2

If you’ve been reading the blog, then you’ll know that Alex is an Infectious Disease Doctor and researcher in Oxford, UK. More about him here. This is the second instalment of his online diary.

Friday evening – Oh no – feeling unwell

Alex comes home on Friday night feeling achy and chilled. Our son throws himself at daddy as he walks in the door and we’re faced with the dilemma, is it safe to cuddle our children at this time? (more on that here)

He feels a fever coming on, and knowing how important a fever is for fighting infection he gets to bed early. But the fever never really develops. To me he just feels clammy.

Saturday 28th March – could this be it?

Alex’s is still feeling a little unwell and has developed a dry cough and is a little breathless. It’s inevitable really. He’s been working with coronavirus patients for over 4 weeks already. It’s likely most of the front-line workers will get it at some stage. Many are working without the full protective gear, only wearing gloves, apron and mask. Though the NHS have ordered some new super space aged masks for the high-risk workers that should arrive soon.

He just wants to get this beast over and done with and get back to work.

The phone starts ringing at 7am. Weekends don’t seem to exist for a doctor at the moment, even one that’s not feeling well.

Alex’s research is of interest to the government. His patient samples being the first in the country are like gold dust, so there are lots of highbrow discussions going on. I find it quite funny as he’s doing that thing where you sit in front of the computer all shirted up, but below is just a pair of boxer shorts. I joke that he should have tie on.

Sunday 29th March

The discussions continue into late morning. Alex is feeling quite unwell now, so he heads back to bed. Later I feed him lots of chicken soup and home made onion cough syrup. He needs his strength right now.

We’re all going a little stir crazy this weekend being stuck inside. One day seems to roll into another.

Our son is in a bad mood, and we’re faced with isolation meltdown. Getting outside in the afternoon to do some gardening seems to help.

Alex books himself in for a coronavirus test on Monday morning 10 am. He probably won’t get the results until Tuesday, depending on how busy the testing centre are. So, he’s staying at home until then. I’m secretly happy we get to see him. Especially as he doesn’t seem that unwell…yet. But I also fear that we’ll fall ill in the next few days too.

Monday 29th March – Test day

Monday morning Alex is feeling better, he said the onion syrup feels amazing, and completely stops him from coughing. I feed him more chicken soup and stock him up on vitamins.

We start to doubt anything was wrong. Maybe he’s just tired from working too hard? But, it’s important to remember that 4 out of 5 people will only develop mild symptoms so it’s best to be cautious.

He’s up doing yoga and talking to people by 6 am. He swears by it as a way to keep stress levels down.

He goes into get tested at a disused GP practice on the hospital grounds that’s been converted into a sterile testing room. He’s instructed to stay in the car with the window closed until it’s his turn to be tested.

The nurses doing the tests laugh and joke with Alex, commenting that…

it’s usually you doing this isn’t it?’

He’s home by around 11 am and disappears upstairs out of the way of the kids to get some work done. He’s frantically instructing people to do stuff because he’s stuck at home. It’s very frustrating. He checks for his results every half an hour. He’s desperate to get back to work.

Tuesday 31st March – Back to work

10 am the results come in – he’s negative! There’s some mixed feeling in our house. Obviously, I don’t want Alex to get sick, as it’s likely that he’ll pass it on to us, but at the same time I feel it’s inevitable that we all get it, and just want to get it over and done with.

Alex is straight back to work. As his research grows, he’s needed to train more people.

Good news – some patients are recovering fully and have been discharged. The hospital team are doing a cracking job!

Wednesday 1st April – Team spirit

More team spirit as medical students volunteer to help be runners and move samples around to the relevant places. Another team of nurses join the first lot to help get things moving more quickly.

Thursday 2nd April – Our weekend

Another hectic day. Back to back meetings interspersed with hanging with the team to trouble shoot any problems and making sure everyone is happy. Alex is on his feet all day, and doesn’t get lunch til 4 pm which he shovels down during a teleconference.

At 7 pm I text him to see where he is. He’s just leaving work now, and says he’ll stop off at the supermarket to get some fresh supplies. I’m conscious that he needs to spend some time with the kids tonight, as he’s working on the wards this weekend. He also needs to take a break as he’s not running on full capacity at the moment – he still got this lingering bug.

The supermarket queue is one-in-one-out. I tell him not to bother, and to come home. But he says it’s nice to stand still for a moment, and to have a chance to reply to the 90 emails that have been accumulating in his inbox over the course of the day.

He said; ‘If I can answer some emails that reduces my stress’. Fair point.

When he gets to the front of the supermarket queue, the staff tell him he didn’t need to wait. He could’ve jumped the queue which is sweet.

8 pm – clapping in the streets for our amazing key workers!

Finally home, we crack open a bottle of wine and sit down for some food. The kids run in and want to play. Alex realises he’s left his phone in the car. He decides to leave it there for a little while to help him switch off and relax.

We dance round the kitchen with the children to their favourite tunes. Which for our four year old is the crazy frog and I like to move it! We need to give him a better music education!

I take the kids to bed, and Alex stays up til midnight answering emails.

Saturday/ Sunday 4-5th April – Working the weekend

This is Alex’s first shift on the wards at the weekend with coronavirus in full swing. He’s dreading it to be honest. He’s knackered from working all week and recovering for whatever bug it was he had. Plus there are meant to be two consultants and two registrars on – but there’s only one of each because people home sick. Weekends like this are usually crazy.

Ordinarily, I hate being on my own at the weekends. I always imagine everyone being out and about with their family having fun. This time I don’t feel so bad, as I know everyone’s stuck at home too. I plan some different things for us to do – including some baking, painting and gardening.

I pack Alex a load of food to take to work and he heads in for an 8 am start. He’s scheduled to finish at 10 pm, though he’s usually there an extra hour or two. So we never expect him home until around midnight.

I text him around lunchtime to see how it’s all going.

He replies, ‘Okay so far. Bleak though’.

On Sunday morning over breakfast I ask Alex what he meant by ‘bleak’. He says that the hospital is usually buzzing over the weekend, but A&E is empty as everyone avoids coming in with their minor injuries. Only the really sick dare come. They are tested for coronavirus and put in a holding bay until test results come back.

The results can take a day or two, partly due to the fiddly nature of the test, and partly dependant on number of staff working and patient demand.

This is not ideal as it means all patients (negative or positive) are kept together as there simply isn’t the space to separate them out. So, whilst potentially negative patients are waiting for their test results there is a chance they’ll catch coronavirus.

Knowing this makes me feel even more passionate about staying at home, leaning on the community for support and using complementary therapies such as good nutrition, vitamins and herbs alongside exercise and mindfulness to help us stay healthy, positive and resilient.

Health in Synergy at it’s best

When we support ourselves, we’re doing everyone a favour – our family, our community, our country and our WORLD.

Now with the current pandemic and the excessive demands on public health care, it feels as if we need to embrace this approach more than ever. When we use community resources in a fruitful, productive and synergistic way, we free up hospital reserves for those who truly need it. We help save lives!

It’s a win-win situation.

Health in Synergy – United we are stronger

For this to succeed we need to be courageous, compassionate and fearlessly step into the unknown. When beliefs and knowledge become one, there can be no more powerful instrument for the welfare of humankind.

So let’s refrain from judgement, be kind and support each other through this challenging time. Because we’re walking this path together, but united we’re not alone.

Stay home. Stay well.

Sunday 5th April

Today is a hard day. In the hospital there are usually many recovering patients and their visitors and children around the wards, lifting up spirits, bringing gifts, cards and chocolates.

But instead, people are suffering alone.

They can’t be given nebulisers to help them breath as they disperse infectious vapours into the air. Instead, dying patients are given morphine to ease the pain and loneliness.

Alex has to inform a patient that his wife has died at home (probably of coronavirus). He was turning the corner and potentially going to make it, but Alex fears he’ll slip down again and die of broken heart.

I cry all day.

Published by carolinementzer

Caroline Mentzer is a Nutritional Therapist, Herbalist and Writer from Oxford, UK. Married to and Infectious Disease doctor, her blog discusses the benefits of combining holistic and conventional approaches to find unique solutions to many health and parenting challenges.

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