Diary of a Doctor on the Front Line – Chapter 3

If you’ve been reading the blog, then you’ll know that my husband Dr Alex Mentzer is an Infectious Disease physician and researcher in Oxford, UK. More about him here. This is the third instalment of his online diary. If you want to read the entire thing, then please click here.

Chapter 3 – Feeling reflective

Monday 5th -Friday 10th April

Apologies for failing to update the diary ever day this week, but I haven’t seen Alex much at all.

Dr Alex Mentzer

Many of you sent messages wishing him some well-needed rest after the emotionally exhausting weekend he had. But he was back at work by 7.30am on Monday morning.

Sadly, when he’s being pushed to the limit, so are we, and I won’t lie, it’s been a tough week.

There’s a reason why we have a five-day week, followed by two days weekend. No one should have to endure these working conditions 11 days straight. But that’s what many NHS workers are doing right now.

It’s been overwhelmingly busy at the hospital, but take heart, there are clear signs that everyone’s self-isolation is impacting the situation in a positive way. It certainly has slowed the spread and stretched the curve out.

So, ‘keep doing what you’re doing’, says Alex. We can live in hope.

However, morale is still very low in the hospital, as they fear the worst is yet to come.

And from a research perspective recruiting patient’s is proving a challenge.

Picture the scenario – you’re a coronavirus patient in hospital. You’re feeling really unwell and are worried for your life. Then a nurse approaches you to recruit you to three different research studies. They talk through lengthy paperwork and get you to sign various consent forms. One is for a drug trial with no previous evidence and potential side effects.  Other studies ask patients to give a relatively large amount of blood to be analysed.

You can see why some may be reluctant to get involved.

But without this scientific research it will be a lot harder to find a cure.

Furthermore, it takes an efficient ‘can do’ attitude to overcome many of the obstacles encountered here, and whilst many of the NHS staff have this in abundance, even managing it with a smile, they are also feeling overworked and underappreciated.

Not to mention the fear they must be feeling for the safety of their lives and their family’s lives at home. I appreciate this myself, when we were convinced that Alex had contracted coronavirus last week.

Now add to picture the many foreign NHS workers distressed about far away extended family members in their own home country.  

Britain hasn’t been very welcoming to Europeans in the last few years.

In my opinion, at this challenging time, this needs to be acknowledged.

As a country, the UK are very good at blowing their own trumpet. We’re Nationalist through and through and proud of our wonderful NHS, and so we should be.

However, what I think we fail to realise is that our NHS is supported by a multicultural network of health professionals who are all putting their lives at risk… for us.

This thought humbles and disarms me.

It’s a stark reminder to us all.

In my opinion, all human beings that inhabit this earth are equal.

We all have a heart that beats and lungs that breathe.

We may all have a brain with a mind of its own and we may hold different political views.

But right now, we need to forget all of this, because we are all united in our vulnerability.

There are no privileged civilisations here. This virus doesn’t differentiate between race, colour or creed. We’re all susceptible.

Money, status and power, as we have witnessed watching Boris fight for his life in intensive care, can’t save us now.

So, please be kind and compassionate to all our nearest and dearest… both locally in your street and town, and abroad in our neighbouring countries. Because we’re in this all together. We need to take care of everyone, young, old, rich and poor.

Sorry to go all philosophical on you, but that’s just the way we’ve been feeling this week.

Can’t help thinking there’s some valuable lessons to be learned from all this dystopia.

Moving forward, we’ve got four full days with Alex at home. I promise some smiley family photos by the start of next week.

Bye for now. Stay well.

Friday 10th April

Friday morning, I wasn’t in a good mood. Woken by our son at 4.45 am who’d had a bad dream. He went back to sleep, but I didn’t. I went downstairs to make coffee, but the cafetiere had a crack in it and exploded all over me.

I spend the next hour cleaning the kitchen. Alex reminds me that something like this always happens on our first day off together.

He tells me to go get some exercise. So, I head off for an early morning run up the river into the centre of Oxford. I vow to return in a good mood.

Oxford is deserted and beautiful on this stunning sunny morning. I see Muntjac deer as I run through the Lye valley. Nature certainly seems to be at one with itself at the moment.  This thought makes me feel better.

When I get back, we have breakfast and set to making plans for the day – Pub day!

Our four-year-old son had asked a few weeks ago ‘when the germs are gone, can we go to the pub’.

This could be a few months yet, so today we’ve decided to bring the pub to us instead.

Our daughter designs a menu which is very reasonable priced, apart from the £10 fish fingers and chips. Under strict orders we have to get dressed up. Our outfits are chosen for us, and I have my hair and make-up done.

We spend the day eating yummy – not so healthy food – and playing numerous board games in the sun. We feel really spoiled to have a garden at the moment. I can’t imagine what’s it’s like being stuck in a flat with no outside space.

We also play hide and seek for about two hours!! It’s amazing where you can find to hide after a few glasses of wine!

Saturday 11th April

Another glorious day. We dedicate it to eggs. First egg painting. Our daughter chooses to turn her egg into Mal from the Descendants, and our son a Megalodon Shark; not quite the fluffy chicks and Easter bunnies I had in mind.

Second, we hide chocolate eggs all around the house and garden. Some which melt in the sun and have to be eaten immediately.

One of the local mums has organised an online scavenger hunt. We receive the above interesting envelope in the post which leads to a lot laughter.

We have some water fun in the garden and finish the day with our favourite local Indian takeaway – Dosa Park. #supportlocal

Sunday 12th April

By Sunday we were beginning to feel guilty for having Alex still at home with us. Many NHS workers have given up some, if not all, of their bank holiday weekend to look after sick patients. This Easter weekend was predicted to be the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK. So, Alex is keen to hear how it’s all going in the hospital.

Family movie night

Fortunately, the emails have calmed down over the weekend as many partners similarly insist that their other-half takes some time off. And there are no emergency calls from the team.

However, the silence is making Alex twitchy. A large roast, glass of wine and a few movies help with the guilty feeling.

Overwhelmed again by the kindness and creativity of the community, when a gift arrives at the door (picture below).

Monday 13th April

On Monday morning, we all come crashing down after the high of the weekend.

The emails are beginning to pile up again. Alex pops into work to sort something out. A ‘couple of hours’ turns into six. When I ask him what the problem is, his answer is simple…


More on this later.

I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend. I know by FB that there were some very creative activities happening all over the country.

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