I am an NHS Paramedic and a father to 5 children. I had recently been successful in being appointed as a Clinical Manager for Pathways and started in early February 2020, after trying for a number of years to progress. I identify as disabled, due to an organ transplant, and come from a BME background and I have faced many challenges in my career as a result of both (maybe my next blog will be about that). When I started my new role, I felt like I had a new direction and purpose and was, after a long time, really happy with my life at home and work.
It was at this time that I started to hear, on the news, how in East Asia a new illness was taking lives and having an impact on so many people. I remember thinking we were all so lucky to be so far away, and never for a moment thought it would bring its devastation so close, and affect my world, as much as it has. Gradually though, I began to see the destruction this disease was having on people, like a darkness spreading from East to West, from North to South. I started to think, would it reach these shores, surely not? I had seen SARS and MERS, but this seemed different. This disease seemed to hold no mercy, particularly for those with health issues.
In March, I was asked to help with the increasing workload, which involved working within 111, and I happily agreed, after all, these were unprecedented times. The dark cloud had reached our shores. As I assisted people; taking their histories and listening to their stories, fears started to rise in the back of my mind, about the fact I am immunosuppressed. I also had rising fear for others around me. One caller, had travelled, with symptoms, from Italy to the UK, by train! All those contacts! I visualised again the darkness spreading and engulfing the world.
Pressure for the ambulance trust to respond effectively to the pandemic increased, of course, and I was told I would have to return to my substantive role in the Emergency Operational Centre. I was becoming really anxious now; going back into an environment with 60-70 people, working within the same room, left me feeling vulnerable and fearful for my own health, and the possible implications that it could have on me and my family.
Thankfully though, government guidance and discussions with managers confirmed that, as I was in a high-risk group for severe disease if infected, I should be shielded and isolate.
Well at least I could be safe; however, isolation was just that, I am living in one room in my house, isolated from even my wife and children. I of course wanted to help, I wanted to do something as part of the NHS family of 20 years, I wanted to do my bit. Unfortunately, due to some issues around IT this became a problem and not possible. It should never be underestimated how work brings normality, and as time went on, life without family and work became less and less normal. Time leaves you to think, and while thoughts can leave you happy, more often can be quite depressive as its only you that can snap you out of it.
I certainly did not realise the effect of being on my own; wanting just a cuddle from the kids but this was not allowed, having to watch them play in the garden and not being able to do be with them. All the things we take for granted now were not possible and this weighs quite heavy on your mind, I think back a few months ago and now it seems the world has tipped itself upside down.
I was also reminded of when I was having dialysis at home and how I felt quite alone then, as I do now. The thoughts and the emotions came back to me. Some days were better than others, but nothing can really prepare you for the cloud that hangs over you. On one hand I was safe, on the other I longed for normality.
I had some contact from work colleagues and those who I can call my friends, such as Gary, Kirsty and Imogen and it was whilst speaking to Imogen, when I said I am grateful that I am safe but this is heavy going, she replied that, in most instances, isolation was deemed a punishment. This allowed me to accept it was understandable that I was finding my situation so difficult, but I also felt guilt. I felt guilt as I was safe, yet my friends were out there and there were colleagues that had passed away. I felt quite upset hearing of these deaths, all deaths of course, but these were people I knew well, that had been taken far, far too soon. Why? For carrying out their duty, for doing what we all set out to do when joining any NHS trust, to help others. My thoughts and prayers go to each and every person who has lost someone to this dark cloud.
So how to I cope? I think a lot about how fortunate I am in this. I have support in my family and friends, but what about those who do not have that. No school, no face-to-face contact with family or friends, no workplace, no shopping, no clubs and societies. I am paying this price, I am isolated, but I am not fully alone.
I also try to keep myself occupied, catching up on reading, passing the time with boxsets. I started by watching lots of the news to keep up with what’s going on in the world, but now I try to avoid this, for several reasons; it seems to consume you, and as for watching politicians giving advice across the world, in most instances it’s sensible advice, but in others…, well I will just leave that out there…….
I also hold onto the thought that, as with any darkness, there will always be light at the end of this. I know we can do this, but we need to look after each other and care for our mental health. This does not stop us feeling darkness at times, after all we are all human, but we can stand together. My message is to be kind to each other, to the Ambulance family; STAY SAFE.