We knew doctors were dying in Italy and China and wherever else COVID had taken a hold but it didn’t quite hit home until one of our consultants pulled everyone in my grade group into an empty ward one day. There’s about thirty of us, all mid to late twenties, and he said “If you haven’t made a will or spoken to your family about what you would want when you die, you might want to consider doing that. This will kill people you know and maybe even you.” About a week later I got the news that one of my friends had committed suicide.
Every time I see someone walking towards me who looks like him, I still have a brief moment of happiness when I think I’m going to get to say hello, then I remember he’s not with us anymore. I’m sure it wasn’t only COVID that tipped his decision, it must have been building for a while but there’s something exceptionally isolating about being a doctor during these times. It’s not too bad when you’re in work, I have lots of friends in medicine and every group I’ve worked with in my field have been exceptionally easy to get along with. We have a great time together working but then you go home and it’s just you and the memories. It’s not a good dinner conversation to describe some of the things I’ve seen. I know my family and friends would be exceptionally supportive but I don’t know if I want to expose them to that grief.
One of the ones that sticks with me was a patient who died of a non COVID lung problem. We rang the family when they deteriorated and told them to get to the hospital immediately or on a video call, they weren’t allowed into the department but we were trying to get families to windows or on video calls. Their children kept saying they didn’t want them to die alone, they just wanted someone to hold their hand, so I did. I remember begging the patient to just hold on a little longer, their family was coming and they just needed to hold on a little longer. A nurse ran in with a phone and held it to the patient’s ear, as soon as their children said goodbye, they died. The daughter begged me to make sure the undertaker would know it wasn’t COVID, they just wanted to bring them home.
For a couple of weeks, I dreaded going shopping for food. I would hear the messages in Tesco saying ‘COVID is here and it’s spreading’ and I would feel really anxious. I looked at other people thinking, ‘You have no idea what it’s like, you have no idea how terrible it can be, why are you out? Why am I out?’ I spoke to someone about it all and that helped massively. It’s hard to keep an emotional human connection when there’s so many layers of protective clothing over us, when you feel like you have to constantly be strong for your friends, family and patients.
In some ways COVID has brought me closer to the people around me, I’m trying to connect more with them and enjoy the time I spend with them even if it is over a screen. Part of that is because I’ve become so much more aware of my mortality. I’m not going anywhere yet though; I was made to do this job, every day I can’t believe how lucky I am that I get to do this. I’ll be there for every one of my patients, every one of my colleagues and anyone else who needs me.
I’m a doctor, it’s what I signed up for and I would sign up for it all over again.