Diary of a Doctor

As you may have read from the About page, Dr. Alex Mentzer is an Infectious Disease Registrar at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. He’s also a Scientific Group Leader at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics where he specialises in looking at genetic susceptibility to certain diseases. As you already know, his focus right now is coronavirus.

Alex in scrubs

I’ve been recording his day-to-day events, thoughts and feelings since we went into lockdown. The aim is to give insight into the wonderful work happening here in Oxford, not only by Alex, but by the amazing people at the hospital and university.

I hope it will make you appreciate what a fantastically diverse community we all are, and how well everyone pulls together, in synergy, to form an awesome team.

W/C 9th March 2020: It’s coming……

Alex has taken some annual leave this week, to write up his research paper that’s long overdue.

It’s been a crazy six months already. Since our family holiday last October half term, he’s not had longer than a two-day weekend off work. This includes Christmas, where he was in the hospital for 11 days straight for the third year running, along with a 13-hour shift on both Christmas day and New Year’s Eve.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t too impressed.

But instead of doing any of his write up or taking some much-needed rest, he goes into work to get organised and train staff for his new coronavirus research.

Whilst in the hospital on Monday 9th, he’s handed a bleep and gets stuck working on the wards until 6.30pm (for no pay).

For the rest of the week, the training goes ahead. It’s controversial and sensitive work because some of the cv patients are really sick.

The team will have to know how and when it’s right to approach and recruit them as well as the most efficient time to take samples. Fortunately, the team of nurses, lead by Sally, are very experienced and awesomely efficient. Alex seems really pleased.

Friday 13th March: There’s no stopping it now.

Today is our son’s 4th birthday. We were meant to be spending the day together, doing something fun. But Alex has back to back meetings with all the big research profs in Oxford, preparing for what’s to come.

But with lockdown in full swing in Italy now, we know what’s coming.

He makes it home for a glass of wine or two to toast the birthday boy.

Weekend 14th / 15th March

Eating tapas

I drag Alex, kicking and screaming to a hotel in Wales. It’s our 15th Anniversary, and I’m determined he takes a break before the sh** hits the fan in the coming weeks. We manage a night away, a beautiful jog around the Brecon’s followed by a delicious meal with plenty of wine, but he’s still glued to his computer.

I know it’s probably the last proper time we’ll have alone for the next few months.

W/C 16th March 2020: It’s coming faster than expected….

This week Alex was meant to be in Florence for a conference, but as you’ll know, Italy is in full lock-down.

He uses the time to meet with various people in Oxford University to work out logistics;

How are they going to tackle this? What equipment is needed? What experiments will take place? Where will research samples go and how will they be looked after?

Friday 20th March

You may have seen it in the Oxford news and Times here. Today Alex’s team were the first in the country to recruit patients into the clinical trial.

This is massive. I’m not sure anyone, out of research, realises the red tape needed to get the go-ahead to do this. This includes ethics approval (which can often take months), the designing of the protocols not to mention the training of the team to facilitate the research.

Alex also talks with some of the first people in the country to have now recovered from coronavirus.  

Insight into how people caught the disease, presented with symptoms and recovery time, is crucial in learning how to set guidelines and tackle this BEAST.

We can only learn from experience, as there’s no scientific evidence on this unknown virus. We must start somewhere, and that somewhere begins as a guessing game, trial and error and reflections from around the world and treatment of other similar viruses, and how they have been beaten.

Sunday 22nd March – Stuck on Shotover

It’s Mother’s Day, and Alex kindly takes the kids out for a long bike ride and fresh air. But the tracks in Shotover have become muddy bogs, and they get stuck in the forest. There’s tears all round.

Monday 23rd March – Separate beds

Alex finds out he’s still full time on the clinical rota. This means he’s expected to be on duty on the John Warin Ward, treating patients with coronavirus every day. But his study is taking off, and as sick patients come in thick and fast to the hospital, research to find a cure for coronavirus has been a made a government priority.

I text him at 5pm to see how his day has gone.

The response,

‘Nuts. Friggin nuts x’

Being scheduled for two jobs at once is going to prove problematic.

Twelve hours a day on the wards, followed by training, meetings, troubleshooting and generally directing a new research team is physically impossible and certainly not sustainable.

But as Alex says,

‘The clinical team are so stretched there’s no choice right now’.

For the first few days he gets in early at 7.30am and finishing at around 9pm. Then he’s home, on the computer replying to over a hundred emails, sorting out research before finally falling into bed around midnight.

Not consciously, but we’ve started sleeping in separate beds. It feels like we’re living in completely different time zones. I’m going to sleep with the kids around 8.30pm and getting up in the early hours for some quiet time. Alex turns in between midnight and 6am, sometimes waking to answer calls in the night.

Perhaps it’s a good precaution for now. We want to minimise contact and the spread of germs. This way we both get as much undisturbed sleep as possible. After all, we need to stay healthy.

Tuesday 24th March – an early morning play session with our son

Our kids are missing daddy like crazy. So Alex spends some time in the early hours of the morning playing with our son.

Wednesday 25th March: a drive to Brighton

Alex drives to Brighton, to be there for 9am to take bloods from a recovered coronavirus patient for analysis. He then drives back for meetings and work. He later finds out that he’s been taken off the day-to-day clinical rota, although he’ll still have to work on-calls and weekends. That’s a relief.

He comes home this evening at 8.30pm feeling overwhelmed. He comments that there’s probably been nothing like it since World War 2.

It’s much worse in London.

The news shows the Excel centre is being taken over to provide a space to ventilate people. 70% of patients being admitted to hospitals with respiratory symptoms in East London hospitals have coronavirus. 

Alex says, the saddest part of all this, is that you can no longer comfort someone dying.

He’s realising how much he relies on contact. Holding a dying person’s hand so they’re not alone. A hand resting on a relative’s shoulder as he gives them bad news. Medical staff supporting each other through a particularly bad day.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to maintain distance, but this leaves patients feeling completely on their own.

It’s heart-breaking for all involved – staff, patients and relatives.

Friday 27th March – Almost getting that Friday feeling…

It’s been on long slog for Alex this week. Working on the wards, setting up numerous research projects, driving round the country. Recruiting the first patients!

As the clap for our carers at 8pm last night proved, everyone is super impressed, thankful and proud of the wonderful job our NHS is doing.

I’m also grateful for our awesome community, rallying around and supporting everyone in need.

Alex buys his team some sweet treats to keep up moral. There’s still a long way to go, but a lot of positive steps have been made.

We all deserve a large quarentini tonight.

………………………………………………………………

Chapter Two – Feeling unwell

Friday 27th March

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 gets to bed early to sweat it out. But the fever never really develops.

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.

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 centres 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 staff are 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 the 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 its 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.

………………………………………………………..

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, sorry to say, he was back at work by 7.30 am 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 a two day 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 this picture the many foreign NHS workers distressed about extended family members faraway 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 beloved 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 and 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 lighthearted 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 4.45am 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 spent 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 go 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 home, we set around 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 we decide to bring the pub to us instead.

Our daughter designs a menu which is very reasonable priced, apart from the £10 for 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 our day 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 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.

Fortunately, the emails have calmed down over the weekend as many partners similarly insist that their other-half takes some time off.

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. Alex pops in to work to sort something out. A ‘couple of hours’ turns into six. When I ask him what the problem is, his answer is simple…

‘Politics’.

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.

………………………………………………………………………….

Chapter 4 – Logistics

Tuesday to Friday (14th -17th April)

Alex confirms that the Easter Weekend wasn’t the hell hole that was expected. Our self-isolation is helping to flatten the curve and reduce the burden on the NHS.

Keep up the good work people!

It is still terribly busy on the wards, and staff are continually having to take time off when they’re sick, but it’s manageable. The overwhelming surge of patient hospital admissions that was expected never arrived.

And in other parts of the hospital it’s deadly quiet. Those that would have normally been doing planned surgery for example, are twiddling their thumbs. Daily clinics are all cancelled until further notice, and A&E is barren as people avoid coming in. With foreign travel ceased until further notice, even the Infectious Disease wards aren’t dealing with any of the strange and wonderful infections they usually see.

What a weird environment it is to work in.

Monday 19th – 22nd April – In the research world

On the other hand, in the research world there is a hub of activity. So many Scientists are submitting papers for publication.

Dr Alex Mentzer

Alex is faced with a new problem.

His research has proven extremely successful, but now it needs to be done on a larger scale.

However, no one yet knows whether the coronavirus blood samples that are being handled in the lab are live and infectious or not.

If they are live, and 10’s of thousands are expected to be tested, it’s practically and financially impossible to do this in a ‘high safety’ environment. Without this category 3 standard of protection, the risk to the lab staff is too great.

Even with protective equipment including gloves, suits and hoods, technicians, rightly so, would be reluctant to work in these conditions. With this in mind, more safety tests need to be done before this large-scale research can take place.

This insiders knowledge frustrates me. It’s all good and well for the government and public to request and expect ‘more testing’ and definitive answers, but sometimes the pure logistics of it all aren’t taken into consideration.

There seems to be a blame culture going on in the media right now and it is all very unhelpful.

Whilst I certainly don’t mind well informed frontline workers valuable opinions, the media swings from one subject to another. Firstly, it’s do more testing, then get more PPE, yet most people commenting don’t understand the complexities of it all.

I think there needs be more compassion, faith and understanding that Hospital Workers are doing the BEST THAT THEY CAN given the unusual and unpredictable circumstances. Especially as the NHS has been under strain for many years already.

We need less criticism and more unity and hope at this difficult time.

At home things are a little strained too

The few occasions we do get to see Alex, he looks tired. He’s definitely burning the candle at both ends. Continually doing 16-hour days is stressful and does have a huge impact on his health and our family life.

Although I can reason that this is not forever, our four-year-old son is really missing daddy.

He’s bored at home and needs friends to play with. He’s at that difficult age where he can’t read on his own. He might manage to colour for a few minutes or do a simple jigsaw, but he wants companionship, comrades to act out his imaginary play.

like father like son

As home schooling starts, my daughter and I have to get to grips with all the online learning, my work also picks up and I struggle to give our son enough quality time.

Alex is very good, he does what he can, he’ll play with our son for twenty minutes in the morning before going to work, but as you can imagine, it’s never enough to satisfy a young person’s craving for attention.

He seems to have an endless amount of energy. I wonder who he gets that from????

Wednesday 22nd April – Fortunately, help is at hand

As research begins to get published in the conventional medicine world, theories on how to support the people through the virus are unfolding in the holistic world.

It has now become well recognised that whilst drug treatments and hospital care may be able to keep an extremely sick person from dying, they can’t build resilience.

In other words, they won’t make a weak body strong.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the person’s ability to withstand challenges, maintain stamina and strength despite rising demands on the body and mind.

Resilience is what is needed on the frontline right now, so that staff can continue to work without becoming severely ill from the virus or from the emotional and physical stress of the job.

But everyone is flagging. It’s already been a long hard month.

Working twelve to fourteen hour days, twelve days in a row is unsustainable without some sort of support. But apart from clapping on our doorsteps in appreciation every Thursday evening at 8pm….

What support can we offer?

Although a lot of progress has been made, the vaccine trail is still in it’s primitive stages.

The tools we have left to build resilience are the same tools that build good health.

They are nutritious food, adequate sleep, appropriate exercise alongside ways to help reduce stress and anxiety.

I’m certainly doing my best at home to make sure that Alex receives as much emotional support as I can offer. I cook balanced meals for him to take to work. I dose him with vitamins. I give him time to do his yoga every morning. I also try and inject some fun into our weekends. But is this enough?

Fortunately, help is at hand.

Many of you may not know, but there is also a team of complementary therapists aiding those fighting on the Frontline.

Scientific research and reviews are taking place and specialised vitamins and herbs are being offered to support these workers.

The Frontline immune support team (more on them here), have already sent Alex some amazing supplements in the post.

They include vitamins and herbs that we would have struggled to source, because they are so popular right now (yes you the public realise the importance of this too).

We are really grateful

At times, it’s frightening being a family on the frontline.

You get to hear about some of the heart-breaking tragedies that are occurring right on your door step. And sometime, late a night when lying in bed, you worry that you could be next.

So, I want to say a big thank you to the Frontline Immune Support Team – for giving me peace of mind.

It’s nice to know we’re not alone, that someone is looking out for us too.

Together we can get through this. Stay well.

…………………………………………………………………………………………….

Chapter 5It’s not over yet

Weekend 24-25th April

It’s funny how you get into little routines when you’re in lockdown. We’re fortunate that our house backs on to a woodland walkway. It’s about a mile round trip over a little stream, through the forest and past ponds where tadpoles growing in numbers by the day.

It’s a magical walk, and one that I’ve not done much despite living in Oxford for 7 years. But now I’m fully learning to appreciate it. The bluebells are absolutely stunning at the moment, and climbing trees is excellent free fun.

Our daily outing is also helping our son become really quite proficient on his bike.

I’m a keen runner, and take the opportunity to do one long run if Alex isn’t working the weekend. Now I’ve got a new running partner. Our daughter is a fantastic swimmer, but missing her sessions has made her desperate for some exercise. It’s nice to have someone to keep me company.

We spend the whole weekend, not really doing much else apart from this daily exercise, cooking, eating and playing board games.

Home life is very simple right now.

Monday 27th – Friday 1st May

However, in the hospital things couldn’t be more different.

It’s uncommonly up and down. Alex says that Covid-19 patients seem to come in waves. Just when you think it’s easing off, another huge influx arrives.

There’s usually a streamlined service, but with all the testing that’s going on at the moment there’s a clash of demands.

Just think how many test samples they’re having to label, anonymise and safety store at the correct temperature. Now imagine the additional paperwork, the consent forms, the databases that need to be built. All the ethics approval and red tape to jump through. Now think of the workers, already tired and overstretched, having to learn all these new systems.

It’s hardly surprising.

There has been such dramatic change in an very short amount of time. Alex notes that it’s very difficult to effect such change on an institutional level, and there are naturally many teething problems.

Another question that many people are asking is…

Are we nearing the end?

As other countries relax lockdown, there’s a general feeling in the UK that we’re nearing the end.

But from a frontline worker’s perspective this is completely untrue.

I’ve witnessed Alex work flat out for six weeks already.

Weekend 2/3rd May

Right now he’s on a rotation of working 11 days straight, including long days (8am-10pm) this weekend.

He stays remarkably positive considering it’s still incredibly busy in the hospital.

If measures are slowly relaxed and normal health services begin to resume, then there’s going to a be a challenging combination of Covid and conventional patients throughout June and beyond.

It certainly isn’t over for hospital workers.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

One long race with an outcome that is completely unknown.

I’ve probably got too much time on my own to think, but I start wondering…

Is this one huge science experiment?

As I’ve already posted here, if you, me and every living thing in the universe were actually just pawns in some giant scientific experiment, we would not necessarily know right now.

Is this simply someone toying with our existence? Testing the waters. Putting a spanner in our works to see how well we’ll cope. Will we sink or float?

The scary thing is that, Covid-conspiracy-theories aside, there’s no doubt that our living reality IS one giant scientific experiment.

Our future is all THEORY

From the perspective of a researcher, doctor (like Alex), nurse, other key worker or simply a person staying at home, we’re all experiencing something new.

And the simple truth is, we don’t yet have all the answers.

Will a vaccine be successful?

We don’t know whether a vaccine will be successful enough to erase this virus. Although animal studies look promising, we’re beginning to test on humans just as the virus takes a downturn in the population anyway.

Hopefully, it will be as safe and effective as the smallpox vaccine that, 40 years ago, ensured the first complete eradication one of the deadliest diseases known to man.

On the other hand, its efficacy could fluctuate from year to year as it needs to be re-matched to a mutating virus, like a moving target.

Although we can hypothesis, the truth is, we won’t probably know until next year.

Herd Immunity

We don’t know whether such as thing as herd immunity is possible with Covid-19. We may start to understand this in the future, as some countries like Sweden take a more relaxed approach, and Switzerland allow children under 10 to hug their grandparents. But even if it is achieved..

As the World Health Organisation state, with or without vaccine..

‘What we don’t yet know is the level of protection or how long it will last.”

Studies suggest that the sickest people will develop the strongest antibody defence. But this could only be enough to see them through this Season. There are rare instances of reinfection reported, but with no concrete evidence – there’s still a lot that experts (like my husband) don’t know for sure.

What about Facemasks?

Another theory waiting to be tested.

We don’t know whether wearing facemasks could have prevented us being one of the worst hit countries.

Certainly, many Asian people have seen horrors far more distressing than ours, and they believe that masks are beneficial.

First detected in Singapore, the Asian Flu of 1957, and subsequent Hong Kong Flu of 1968 collectively killed over 2 million people.

Then there was SARS in China in 2002. Another stain of coronavirus mutated from animals to infect humans.

Over the years it has become part of Asian culture to wear facemasks in public.

In fact, through observational evidence, health experts there recommend wearing them to help prevent spread.

Although not yet scientifically validated, are their real-life experiences not compelling enough?

For perspective, if we look back in history, it is only 150 years since we realised the important of handwashing. A simple practice that was initially laughed at but went on to revolutionise the medical world, saving thousands from dying.

Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

How about vitamins?

We also don’t yet fully know then extent to which natural therapies could play a part in a solution. Certainly, there are some interesting clinical trials going on in China and USA giving IV vitamin C and other nutrients in synergy with certain drugs and hospital treatments.

Although preliminary results are incredibly promising, the studies are ongoing and the final results won’t be made available until the end of September.

In truth…. WHO KNOWS?

As a novel virus, we have much to learn about Covid-19.

Science is a work in progress, we don’t and may never have all the answers.

I certainly don’t know how long we’ll endure its effects. I don’t know what will happen in the weeks, months and years to come. I simply don’t know.

What I do know is that there’s a huge likelihood (as GP Dr Luke says) that life will never be the same again.

And if that’s the case, then like researchers, I want to learn something from all of this too.

Personally….

I’m going to take this time to figure out if there is anything we can do to prepare for the future.

Especially as, looking back in history, there is a strong likelihood of a ‘next time’.

Our Community

I’m learning that a crisis can help us become a close-knit community once again. Joining together to take care of the elderly and vulnerable.

I’ve witnessed people getting to know their neighbours for the very first time as they stand on the doorstep clapping in unity.

The Solidarity

I’m appreciating the gestures of kindness. The stepping aside instead of pushing past. The nod of gratitude.

I’m learning that we can connect with others despite the barriers.

For the eyes smile even when you are wearing a face mask.

Friends and Family

I’m learning that we can find many creative ways to stay connected to our friends and family.

An online quiz, a zoom yoga session and dance party, a group cookery lesson followed by the virtual sharing of a meal.

Distance doesn’t need to separate us.

Our Environment

I’m learning to slow down and value simplicity.

The ‘micro pleasures’ in life.

A snail crossing our patio or an army of ants taking some food to their home. Our daily walk around the block past a pond means the children are seeing tadpoles turn into frogs before their very eyes.

Our Planet

Being cooped up at home has taught me to value our freedom. But I’m also learning not to take for granted our awe-inspiring planet and its delicate biosphere, which we have all neglected for far too long.

With the visible impact lockdown has had on global warming, I’m learning to think twice about using the car or travelling abroad in the future.

Our Bodies

I’m also learning to have greater respect for my body. To continue to try and establish a general state of wellbeing for myself and my family.

To not take my health for granted.

With this in mind, I’m more passionate than ever about cooking healthy food, ensuring quality sleep, daily exercise and finding ways to keep resilient and positive.

For the health of the body may be the key to getting through a possible next time (more on that here).

Our NHS

Finally, I’m learning a greater appreciation and respect for our NHS.

I’m learning to use it wisely.

To protect its existence by finding ways to support it.

To value our lives, our precious time on this earth.

Because you never know, I may be the one who needs it in the future.

What about you?

Is there anything you’ve learned from this experience?

Together, I hope we can look forward to a healthier more connected future.

Monday – Thursday 4-7th May

Somehow we manage to get through the weekend without Alex.

It’s never easy, but we survive. We hold onto the welcoming thought of the coming bank holiday in our mind.

We spend time planning what we’ll do together. Glad that the weather forecast is looking good.

By Tuesday I’ve really had enough. Can it be the weekend now pleeeeasee?

Although it’s great that my children are constantly inventing games, I’m fed up of playing monsters and superheroes, doctors and nurses, of building dens and being climbed over in a rough and tumble session with our four year old.

I’m fed up of breaking up fights between the children, not being able to have a shower without one of them screaming.

Having to constantly tidy up their mess and distruction, and being a non-stop chef, maid, teacher, cleaner and parent….on my own.

As I’ve said before, when Alex is overworked, so am I.

I have total admiration for single parents right now.

I’m seriously lacking the energy this week and I need a day off.

Perhaps if I lock myself in the car outside for ten minutes I’ll get some peace and quiet?

Monday 11th -15th May

‘It’s been a strange couple of months in the hospital’, Alex says.

At the beginning (in March) the virus was a novelty, a rare finding. If detected, the patient was isolated and trial and error hospital treatments given to support them through the worst symptoms.

Then the WAVE CAME.

Suddenly, the hospital was full of Covid-19.

Everywhere you turned more and more patients.

Many wings were filled to capacity.

In ICU you could hear the buzz of ventilators, the beep of cardiac monitors and the busy footsteps of people running all over the place.

Research teams were employed to sign patient’s up to drug trials and take blood for antibody testing. Flurries of paperwork, thousands of samples, newly installed refrigerators.

Due to COVID-19 crisis restrictions, no one lingered in the hospital public spaces, like the café and main lobby.

And in the non-emergency wings it became eerily quiet. People were too frightened to come in. Some doctors were twiddling their thumbs.

NOW in Mid May the hospital is seeing the return of it’s regular patients. Normal services are resuming and those that needed care, but hid away, a flooding in again.

Covid-19 is still featuring. But it’s become just one of the differentials to look out for.

For example, someone may come in with heart problems, and when tested they’re also carrying Covid-19 but this might not be the main problem, just something else to consider.

With this in mind, those working towards to the Winter screening are now incorporating SARS COV-2 into the standards tests for seasonal bugs like the flu, RSV and other respiratory illnesses.

In other words, Covid-19 it’s becoming a normal part of the hospital.

However, there is a general feeling of a false sense of security.

That this could simply be another lull before a storm in June as lockdown eases….but we’ll see.

I’ll be reporting here soon.

For few, at least it may mean some respite from the crazy few months they’ve just endured.

A time to recharge batteries, get some sleep and some sunshine, focus on healthy living and taking extra measures to build resilience for the next potential wave (more on how we do this here).

The research world on the other hand is charging ahead at full steam – so Alex is certainly still keeping busy.

‘It’s madness, I’m exhausted, can I get off this roller-coaster for just one second please?‘ Alex comments.

Mental Health Awareness Week 18th22nd May

At home I’m a lot better this week. The sun is out again, and I enjoy a long run and chat with a good friend.

Though sadly, the children are really struggling.

Our daughter is discussing Mental Health Awareness Week during online school chats. She becomes very teary and expresses that she’s missing her friends and wants to go back to school.

Unfortunately, she’s the year group that probably won’t return until September.

Our son, at four years old, is not so good at expressing himself. He’s simply causing trouble, desperate for some attention.

Despite this being very trying, I recognise that it’s important I show compassion for his feelings right now.

He’s certainly not doing it on purpose.

I take him out for long walks to burn off some pent up energy and emotion. It seems to help.

Weekend 23/24th May

Alex is working in the hospital this weekend. So I’ll report back next week.

In the meantime, stay well.

p.s. am I allowed to confess here that I don’t always clap to our carers at 8pm on Thursday nights?

Sometimes it’s bedtime for our 4 year old, and I see it as essential that I get him in bed and asleep before my husband comes home.

Is that awful?

This week I heard African drummers serenade down the street. Sometimes fireworks!! If Alex is cycling home at 8pm I selfishly want kids in bed so he can unwind/ de-stress and eat a meal in peace. Listen to his woes. Off load.

Am I a terrible person?

I do everything I can to support him whilst he’s at work. I’m not ungrateful for the other workers. But sometimes we JUST NEED PEACE AND QUIET!

11 weeks 14 hour days – it’s intolerable sometimes. Will it ever end? We’re all going a bit mad!! Is anyone else?

My legend of a husband is 40!!

This weekend.

We’ve known each other for 25 years!

My soul mate, best friend, partner in crime, confidant, best dad, awesome compassionate beautiful soul of a man.

Hugely proud. I don’t often gush.

But he’s truly the best!

This is a giant landmark, but we can’t celebrate…properly….yet.

But we’ve done a good job of having an awesome lockdown birthday – BBQ, Zoom dance party with some long time friends. Plenty of bubbles and cake. Really good fun and a chance to unwind.

We’ll have a proper party as soon as we can.

Thanks for reading. Stay well.

Week 4th – 10th June

Here’s an update after Alex worked this weekend on the wards…

‘We’re only just beginning to digest what has happened. Up until a few weeks ago, it was intense, heart-breaking, lonely, soul destroying. In fact, it was complete anarchy; a whirlwind through our usually organised hospital. Now it’s getting much more manageable and things are less crazy. There are fewer Covid patients than before. They combine of a few that are admitted most days, with some that have been in for a very long time and are only just recovering’.

Testing?

Sometimes you need a few tests to be certain if patients have coronavirus. Some patients you’re absolutely certain have it, but only test positive on the second or third one.

So, there are definitely some false negatives.

Staff are also frustrated; many are still waiting for antibody test results.

Six weeks after they give blood for analysis, they still don’t know whether they’ve tested positive or not. Testing facilities have been overwhelmed it seems.

Alex got his antibody test result on Friday.

To our surprise he was negative.

This negative test result has come after seeing infected patients most days for the past 11 weeks as well as exhibiting clear symptoms of Covid in early April.

He’s very suspicious and concludes that the antibody tests aren’t as accurate as we’d hoped.

Which begs the important questions –

How is track and trace going to work if we don’t have accurate testing?

And how will the effectiveness of a vaccine be measured if we can’t guarantee antibody tests results are correct?

Second wave

Everyone is also still frightened of a second wave.

It’s such an unknown, it could be more fatal than the first, and if it returns during the coming Winter it could risk the most vulnerable at the same time as Flu tends to rear its ugly head.

This combination could certainly overwhelm NHS resources once again.

So get looking after yourself people.

Now’s the time to eat healthy food, sleep, exercise, get some sunshine and take your vitamins to boost your immune system. Before long, Summer will be closing and Autumn could potentially lead us into an explosion of seasonal bugs.

This virus is not behaving like experts thought it would.

What could this mean for the future of the NHS?

So, at present, everything is very uncertain.

As the public are slowly easing back to normal life, regular patients, that previously waited it out, are returning for their usual hospital appointments.

For now, seasonal allergies and pollen count seem to be higher on everyone’s agenda than worrying about fevers and coughs.

We see school children in their uniforms on their way to school. Our son is back at nursery three sessions a week (and very happy as a result), although our daughter is still online schooling from home (feeling isolated). It’s a very weird time.

We’re all in LIMBO.

However….

The news reported this morning that NHS waiting lists are likely to double as a result of a back log of other patients now returning. And a second wave could make this even longer.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but sadly, it’s clear we’re going to be in this for the long haul.

Covid-19 isn’t going to vanish.

Alex says its prevalence is reduced in the community, but it will remain with us for the foreseeable future.

%d bloggers like this: