Covid-19 a London medic speaks from the frontline

As the world reels from what seems a relentless attack by an unseen, microscopic foe – with a third of the world’s population under lockdown, economies all but ground to a halt and quarantine and self-isolation the new norm; one profession in particular stands at the frontline – that of physicians and nurses. Their work has perhaps never been more heroic and self-sacrificing than it is right now in this Covid-19 pandemic.

An emergency medic from the community relates his experience to

In January 2020, the news of an outbreak of a virus in a small market in Wuhan seemed far removed from my clinical practice in London. I could never have imagined that 3 months later, as a front line medic, I would be seeing patients flood into the emergency department with this very same illness.

I have spent the last three weeks treating patients with Covid-19 and it is like no other disease I have encountered. It is relentless in its spread and regardless of media reporting, spares no age group. Young and old, the healthy and those who are vulnerable, I have seen them all suffer with this virus. I have seen young, fit and healthy adults walk into the department and within a matter of hours placed on a ventilator fighting for their lives. I have held back tears as I tell an elderly woman that if she leaves her husband of 50 years here he will die alone, and so it is better to go home with him and let him pass away with her next to him. While the early symptoms are mild cough, fever and flu-like symptoms, those who unfortunately become unwell and develop moderate and severe disease progress to chest infections, causing significant distress to their breathing and destruction to the body’s immune system.

As healthcare workers, it is our job to remain calm when there is panic around and maintain clarity to make the right decisions. However, this situation was very different. The mood was sombre and the usual positivity and hustle and bustle was reduced to an uncomfortable silence. There was a genuine fear through all staff of what we were witnessing. There were anxieties about how to treat the endless stream of patients, the lack of protective equipment and most of all, the danger we were putting ourselves and our families in. Every day we come and find that more of our colleagues have fallen sick and are at home fighting the virus. This was a career we all signed up for and had trained many years for however, none of us were prepared for this.

Despite this onslaught upon our senses and our bodies and the relentless forward march of this pandemic, there is a silver lining of hope. After 2-3 weeks of seeing this virus in its worst form, we are also seeing many patients improve and recover. We are seeing the vast majority of those with mild symptoms get back to normal life. We are seeing many of our colleagues coming back to work. It is this majority that reminds us we will win the fight against this virus. It is this majority that brings us collective hope.

Changes across healthcare that would usually take years are happening in weeks. Just as how schools and offices have transitioned to the virtual world of the internet, primary and specialist care has also moved to telephone and video appointments and consultations. The hospital has been restructured into ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ teams and staff are quickly redeployed to the areas that will be hit the most. Although these concepts give rise to connotations of war and though we fight an enemy that remains largely invisible, there is truly a sense of defending our country and our fellow citizens that moves us.

With no cure or evidenced treatment, the fight is not to beat the virus. The fight is to slow its spread. This is termed ‘flattening the curve’. Countries across the globe have tried to ‘contain’ the virus and most have failed due to its ability to survive outside the body. The only solution is now a ‘delay’ strategy. By delaying the spread, you flatten the peak of cases and in turn you give the healthcare system the chance to deliver for those who are most unwell. This is the reason staying at home is key. This is the reason that self-isolation will work.

The feelings of fear and anxiety that this epidemic has brought about create a very lonely place and if it were not for my own faith and also that of those around me, it would be almost impossible to be strong enough to face the challenges ahead. In times of crisis, faith becomes our bulwark. Staff in the hospital have moved from traditional ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ greetings to instead saying, ‘pray for me’ or ‘keep us in your prayers’. For a society so removed from a belief structure of faith this is as big a change as any. It is clear that those of us who have faith are the ones who also have most hope.

Our community leader, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s TUS relentless prayers and instructions to members of the Dawoodi Bohra community across the world have been an enduring source of hope and solace. In past public crises or personal periods of hardship, we have found that our local masjids, mausolea or community centres have been our places of recourse and prayer. With these sites locked down and physically inaccessible Syedna TUS, with his prayers and counsel, has converted our homes into places of worship and our hearts and minds into places where the Almighty resides. This intense period of self-isolation and inward looking has resulted in a stronger feeling of community and concern for our brothers and sisters and our fellow man than perhaps ever before. Particularly, his constant call to remember Imam Husain AS and his plight in Karbala, remains an everlasting illustration of how – during even the darkest of times – the light of humanity, kindness and good can never be extinguished.

As I and other medical practitioners from our community face this great threat to humanity, we find strength in Syedna’s TUS counsel and actions and seek his continued prayers for our well-being and that of our community and fellow man.

In the face of adversity, you always see the strength of humanity and through small acts of kindness and hope the morale of our teams has begun to lift. Every day, strangers come up to us and thank us for our service, restaurants deliver food to the department to make sure we are all fed well and while supermarket shelves are stripped bare by panic buying, well-wishers have come together to open a hospital grocery shop where nurses and staff can pick up essentials, at no cost, at the end of a long shift.

Covid-19 is an ‘international crisis’ and yet it still is difficult to accept that it is affecting our local community. Furthermore, the reality is that this is just the beginning. There are many harsh decisions to be made. This will affect every family in the United Kingdom and across the world, not just now, but in the years to come. Loved ones will die and, more sadly, many will die alone. This is something that cannot be changed.

However, every single person can fulfil a role in this fight.

There has never been a simpler strategy of war. The virus needs movement of people to transfer and therefore the best thing everyone can do is stay at home. The virus lives on surfaces and transfers as we touch things and so hand hygiene is the absolute key to killing it. This is a global problem and so only a collective effort can solve this.

Healthcare workers around the globe are leaving their loved ones on a daily basis to head to the frontlines and fight against this virus. All we need from the public is to stay at home and stop the spread.

We stay at work for you, so please stay at home for us.

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