None of this seems real: NHS and key workers share their experiences of being on the coronavirus frontline

Key workers who have spent months on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus are sharing their own experiences with the public.

Through the Humans of Covid-19 project, individuals highlight the toll working in hospitals during a pandemic has taken on their mental health and explain in just a few paragraphs how it feels to lose a patient as a medic.

Others talk about how they have seen communities come together in the wake of coronavirus.

Like its inspiration, the hugely successful Humans of New York series, Humans of Covid-19 sees the picture and story of a different person shared daily on social media.

It was launched at the end of April by Benjamin Rosen, a 28-year-old junior doctor working in a busy London A&E department.

Dr Rosen told the Standard he started the project to encourage people to take social distancing seriously.​

Dr Benjamin Rosen, 28, launched the Humans of Covid-19 project and hopes that learning what frontline workers are going through will help encourage the public stick to social distancing rules (Humans of Covid-19)

He said: “I’ve been a huge fan of Humans of New York for many years and the format was perfect.

“It’s a huge ask for everyone not to visit their loved ones and hug them, but if we don’t, we’ll see another upswing in infections and it’ll be back to how it was at the peak of the pandemic.

“There I was at work surrounded by inspiring people who had such incredible stories to tell.

“These are the same people who are going into work every day, putting their lives at risk to help others. Over 200 healthcare workers have now died during the pandemic, but we are so much more than a statistic.”

Vivekka Nagendran, 25, is one of the many junior doctors interviewing frontline workers across the UK (Humans of Covid-19) 

He added: “I want to show everyone that we are just like them.

“I hope that by sharing their stories I can show everyone the personalities behind the people who put their lives at risk for them, and that it’ll inspire anyone who reads it to do whatever it takes to help us fight this pandemic.”

The medic has taken on a journalistic role for the project, interviewing colleagues and people he has only met via Zoom.

He now has a team of ten healthcare and social workers around the country conducting interviews and taking photos, and together they have interviewed more than 60 people.

Each post has received hundreds of likes, with comments thanking the key workers for both their honesty and their service.

One Instagram user wrote: “Thank you for sharing this post. You are all amazing. Stay strong.”

Here are some of their stories:

Dr Benjamin Chang, 26, an A&E doctor in London

In his post, Dr Chang explains how the pandemic has made him “spend that extra 10 seconds with patients” with Covid-19.

He said: “I’ve noticed actually that because there’s very little we can do for patients with Covid in terms of treatment, it’s the small things that make a big difference. So like today one of my patients most likely has Covid. One of the nicest things I’ve been able to do for a while is to try and get her a bed on a ward next to her husband. It’s a small, but hopefully meaningful thing we can do for her.⁣⁣

“I’ve noticed I’m holding more hands than I used to, especially with patients who are elderly and afraid. I’m trying to make a conscious effort to ask them “is there anything more I can do”, or spend that extra 10 seconds just being with them. Especially in resus that can be challenging, because I’m wearing so much gear that I can’t wait to get out of. But I keep thinking that this conversation may be one of their last and it’s worth spending that time.”

The A&E doctor also shared how working through the pandemic has taken a toll on his mental health, saying: “Right now, I’m more worried about the effect coronavirus is going to have on my mental health than on my physical health, because of this emotional burden that we are all shouldering. And we either find a way of shouldering it or we don’t.”⁣

Joann Thorpe, 47, a London bus driver of two years

Before starting a new career as a bus driver, Ms Thorpe trained and showcased racehorses. She never expected to be driving through a pandemic, but said she has been inspired by some of the kindness and generosity she has seen from Londoners.

In her post, she explained how an offer of furlough was not possible to take as she was unsure she could survive on 80 per cent of her pay.

Ms Thorpe talked of being a lifeline to the elderly on the estates she drives through, and said: “I’m not going to lie, when I saw they were putting up temporary morgues and these new hospitals it did really frighten me.

“There’s been around 40 bus driver deaths now I believe. I’ve got the screen up, mask on, gloves on. What can you do? There’s risks to lots of things. I’ve rode racehorses for 20 years and I’ve had falls and accidents. You do your best to protect yourself but you can’t stop living can you, you know? I think I’ve crammed a lot more fun in my 47 years than most people do in a lifetime.”

Joann Thorpe, 47, has continued driving her bus throughout the pandemic (Humans of Covid-19)

The project team contacted Ms Thorpe about sharing her story after she commented on one of its posts.

Today she said: “Some of our routes go through two or three hospitals, and the passengers have been really fantastic. It’s great to be able to take them to work and not charge for it.

“I see a man every morning who stands outside Basildon Hospital clapping there for a couple of hours every morning for the NHS staff going in. The nurses and the domestics and chemists and people that get on have all said it really does give them a boost before they start their shift.

It’s one of the things I get to see.

“I hope people read the stories and do stay distanced.”

Dr Dante Theodore, 27, Emergency Department administrator

Mr Theodore lost his own cousin to Covid-19, returned to work, and the first thing he encountered was the death of a young patient.

The receptionist wrote about how he is going into work and doing his job every day, but is struggling to process what he has been through.

He explained: “I haven’t had time to grieve at all. None of this seems real. I haven’t processed any of it.”

Adekemi Adefolalu, 25, is a staff nurse in a major London hospital

Ms Adefolalu attended intensive training to work at the original Nightingale hospital in the Docklands, but never completed a shift.

The Nightingale shut last week after treating a small number of patients and is being kept “in hibernation” in case a second wave of Covid-19 infections emerges, while Ms Adefolalu continues to work at her hospital.

The nurse shared her experiences of training with Humans of Covid-19 – her mix of relief that the hospital was not needed, and sadness that she did not end up being able to play a part in helping the most sick.

Adekemi Adefolalu, 25, is a staff nurse in a major London hospital who believes “it is very important that we have a true, honest, and accurate account of how it is to work on the frontline” ((Humans of Covid-19))

Today Ms Adefolalu said she shared her experiences because she thinks that “it is very important that we have a true, honest, and accurate account of how it is to work on the frontline”.

She said: “You see a lot in the news and on social media about key workers and it’s not coming from them. This feels more authentic, it gives us a direct voice. It felt important to get involved.

“Benjamin is giving so many people from all areas of key workers a voice at this time, and it’s absolutely brilliant.”


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