Behind the front lines: In conversation with a frontline worker

On 29th January 2020, the UK was hit with its first confirmed case of coronavirus. As of today, a new kind of Independence Day is upon us as shops reopen and life is slowly etching towards a new normal. However, this is not a time to forget the months of loss and strife millions have gone through, and none more so than our frontline workers. 

Anticipating the arrival of the virus since the outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China, in late December, it is the opinion of many, that the UK government dealt with the virus poorly. 

The UK, seemingly, inactively awaited the arrival of COVID-19 to its borders. After watching the horrifying scenes from intensive care units across Europe, and in particularly in Italy, some were prompted to stay home and stay distant. Yet for many, with a lack of government guidance, life carried on as normal. 

With new outbreaks being reported since May in Beijing and Shulan, fears are spreading that the outbreak is starting again. As numbers have appeared to dwindle in the UK, with around 100 deaths on 3rd July compared to over 1000 in late April, it may not be unrealistic to think that the deadly pandemic that has swept the globe for over 6 months is coming to an end. 

Nevertheless, with a new outbreak and lockdown measures in Leicester, coupled with the movement into an eased lockdown, it may seem to be coming to an end for the majority. But the threat of another outbreak is looming and it most certainly is not over for our NHS staff. 

Hearing their voices: Key worker in conversation with Candid Orange 

After recently speaking to a frontline NHS worker, I was able to glean the reality of what it is like working on the frontline with positive COVID-19 patients. The anonymous worker, a band 5 rotational physiotherapist, spoke with me about their experiences, their opinion towards the government’s approach to the pandemic, and their feelings as a survivor of the disease. 

HOW HAS YOUR ROLE CHANGED DURING THE PANDEMIC?

My role did not really change when the pandemic began. Daily, we were allocated a role, whether that would be on intensive care one day, to the next being on a general elderly ward – you never knew where you were going to be which I found to be quite unnerving, disorientating. You also did not know if you would be on a positive ward or not. 

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THE PANDEMIC BEGAN?

It did not feel real until it came over here. It felt like it would never happen to us, it was surreal. Then when it did get to the country it felt so real and the patients were so unbelievably poorly but there was not really anything we could do about it. 

When I was watching the news it really took a while for it to hit home that the doctors and nurses in China and Italy, for example, were in the same position I would soon be in. 

I definitely found it scary. Before I went onto the hot wards, I had heard what it was like. As soon as I got onto the wards I quickly realised that it is just a normal ward, but these patients have COVID-19. You don’t treat them any differently you just have you be mindful of your PPE and how you approach their treatment. 

Having been in that environment, the media portrayed it to be scarier than it was. I am not denying that it is not scary, it is unprecedented, and we did not know how to deal with it. But for me, being on the front lines and being able to see it myself, made me feel more at ease, as opposed to those stuck at home, watching it daily on the news. 

DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT HAVE SUPPORTED YOU AS A KEY WORKER?

Personally, I have not, and still do not feel supported. 

The community have supported us more by donating food, clothes, household items; that is the support that I have seen. 

From the government, I do not feel like they handled the situation as best they can. Yes, they say they are going to increase funding for the NHS, but frontline workers, like myself, are not going to see that money. 

However, I have not been in a situation where I have not had the correct PPE available, for me it has always been available. 

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE CLAPPING?

I liked the clapping, I thought it was good. It gave my street a sense of community for a short period of time. It was nice to think that people were thinking of us. 

For those who criticised it, I think it is odd to criticise something that shows support and brings a community together. I agree that there were better options for support to be shown, and maybe in some senses the clapping disguised some of the things that weren’t being done through the praise and distraction it created. Yet, for me, it did make me feel better in the thick of it. 

HAS YOUR ATTITUDE CHANGED TOWARDS YOUR JOB DURING THE PANDEMIC?

Well, pre-COVID I was not enjoying my job, at all. I was getting no job satisfaction; I did not feel welcome or appreciated in the work that I was doing. I know it is awful to say, but I am glad that COVID happened, because if it hadn’t, I would have left my job.

But since COVID I have felt appreciated. I have worked with so many different people who have celebrated and appreciated the work that I do. I have so much job satisfaction, which is what the job is all about. 

DO YOU THINK THAT THINGS ARE BACK TO NORMAL?

No. The mood in my hospital alone shows how far we are from normal.

During the peak, staff morale was definitely at an all-time low. I think that it is slowly getting back to normal as physios were able to rotate, so we are returning to our pre-COVID yearly timetable. This slight return of normality has made some people more uncertain and nervous about the future, but some people happier as they realise that is could possibly be over soon. 

To see what has happened in Leicester, lockdown is undeniably been taken prematurely. The “stay alert” government advice is ridiculous concerning COVID. As a healthcare worker, I find that the advice is absurd.   

Having had a positive antibody result, did this change your perception of the virus? 

When I got my positive antibody result, I was not surprised. I had been off for a week with mild symptoms, but none of my family were showing any symptoms. Working on the positive wards and being up close and personal with positive patients.

I only had very mild symptoms: I had a cough for about two days, but the advice from the government and Occupational Health stated that I had to be off work for 7 days, even though I felt okay and did not feel massively ill. Although, my taste and smell has not fully come back and it has been two and a half months. 

Overall, I think COVID19 has enabled me to develop into a more confident physiotherapist and I feel that now, going into the next stage of my career, I am ready to tackle whatever comes my way. 

The New Normal 

Perhaps the now almost nonexistent lockdown is the epitome of one step forwards two steps back. With Leicester moving backwards and the rest of the UK moving forwards there is no telling what the future of the pandemic will be in the UK.

Hearing the first-hand account of a frontline worker has provided a new perspective towards the reality of the coronavirus outbreak. A tale of overcoming obstacles, and a supportive community is encouraging. Although, for other NHS frontline workers, their experiences may not have been so bright. Nonetheless, we thank the NHS frontline workers for their bravery and dedication that without, the UK would not have been in the position it is in today coming out of lockdown.

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