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View from the Frontline: the Covid ward doctor

Junior doctor Jonny Moses on what it was like working on a coronavirus ward during the pandemic

Isabelle Aron
Written by
Isabelle Aron

I’m in my fifth year as a junior doctor. We rotate in different job roles on a semi-regular basis and the majority of junior doctors around the country were all redeployed to respond to the Covid crisis on the frontline. 

I’m a doctor, but I’m a person first. I moved into a bed and breakfast to protect my family. I was worried about getting exposed to Covid and bringing it home. I think that would be the worst possible thing to happen. I felt like it was the right thing to do. 

Sometimes you really feel you’re at the deep end. Hardly any of us had any experience or formal training on how to respond to such a large-scale crisis. Obviously, no one had any experience with how to respond to Covid. 

There were so many new things we had to learn, even though we’re all doctors. I worried. Would my skills be enough to help people? I also thought about whether I’d infect anyone else – would I be taking the virus home with me? Or even infecting anyone else on my journey back? I did think of my safety too, but it was more a fear of passing it on to someone else who would become really unwell. 

We were totally reliant on what the public did. I think that was actually the biggest impact of controlling the virus – it wasn’t really what we were doing in hospitals, it was what everyone else was doing. We’re all really grateful for everyone who made huge sacrifices to keep people safe. It made a huge impact.

There’s been a lot of awareness and praise for frontline healthcare workers and I’ve been really touched by it. When I wasn’t working, I’d be out there clapping on Thursdays. I’ve got a drum I’d take out on the street for an ad hoc jam session with my neighbours. I was clapping for my colleagues. 

A lot of our patients couldn’t see their loved ones. That’s such a difficult thing, whether they were in hospital for Covid or a different reason. We had a heightened awareness that these people didn’t have the support they’d normally have, so we’d spend more time with patients providing not just medical care but just being there to listen.

We had to make difficult decisions and have difficult conversations where ideally you’d normally want to talk to people face-to-face. We had a lot of phone calls from people whose loved ones were in hospital. With people that have died during this time, whether due to Covid or another reason, we need to recognise that people haven’t been able to grieve properly. 

It’s had an impact on people’s health in general and emotional wellbeing. People’s appointments have been cancelled, scans, operations. All these things stopped, which have made some conditions worse.

At the onset of the pandemic, there were lots of concerns about the impact that Covid may have on people of black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds. A lot of people felt their fears weren’t acknowledged. It’s an awful thing that people expressed concerns and they weren’t taken seriously. 

In the early stages, it did feel like there wasn’t adequate PPE to go around. There were a lot of teething problems. One of the things I tried to do early on was to get PPE for my local region by contacting different people online who were making PPE – I got some really great donations.

Working in PPE is really odd at first. It seems so impersonal. It’s really hard to distinguish people, unless you learn each other’s gait and can pick out how people walk. I used to put my name on the front of my apron. The first time I stepped into a Covid ward in PPE it felt a bit daunting, but you realise that everyone is feeling the same, so you just get on with it.

It’s hard to interact with patients while you’re wearing PPE. There were so many times I wanted to just take it off and let them see my face. I think so many people were fearful and there’s nothing more terrifying, especially for some of the older patients who might have dementia: suddenly they’re in an unfamiliar environment and there are these people in masks mumbling at them and they can’t make out what we’re saying. I just wanted to take it off and smile and let them see a human face. 

There have been times that I’ve come home from work and cried because of some of the things I saw and had to deal with. It’s been really difficult. But the mood at work has been supportive. I think it’s important to recognise that we’re all human. A lot of people put on a brave face and we do our job and bury those emotions until we go home, but for those of us who have been able to talk about how we’re feeling, that’s been a crucial part of this experience.

Kindness is a big thing that stands out. I definitely felt like everyone was in it together, whether that was in the hospital or among the public. There seemed to be more smiles and eye contact – more positivity between people when I went out on my once-a-day walk.

Jonny is a Versus Arthritis ambassador.

Read more from this series:

View from the Frontline: the firefighter delivering PPE.

View from the Frontline: the Deliveroo rider.

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