Compared to Molly Greenaway’s’ blog previously, the pandemic and lockdown was a very different experience for me. Being halfway through my third year of medicine my peers and I felt helpless as we watched friends step up and work in the pandemic effort, while we were at home watching lectures on zoom.
I was lucky to be able to step back into working at my local care home; a fantastic job and not entirely selfless, as it provided a good reason to be out the house and away from my parents a few days a week! However, the perks of working and earning were also balanced out by constant stress surrounding the possibility of taking COVID into the home and to the residents who were living there, fortunately an eventuality that never became a reality. As part of our job we tried to maintain as much normality as possible for those who call it home, which actually made what was going on in the rest of the country, outside my little countryside bubble, seem so detached and almost not real at times.
Being incredibly fortunate (not that I’ve always seen the perks!) to call a quiet countryside town home meant the usually mundane detachment from the rest of the world perhaps worked to my advantage as the ongoing pandemic seemed more removed. With the latest social media craze turning to logging miles on strava, attempting to keep a sourdough starter alive (ashamed to admit I failed in this task) and my cycling mad dad overjoyed at how quiet “his” cycling roads ware, life seemed to tick over in sleepy Shropshire for a while… before cabin fever set in.
Compared to many other medical schools who had exams either cancelled or brought forwards (I can’t imagine the stress of the latter!) our end of third year written exams were postponed from June to August, partially perhaps in the vain hope we would be able to sit them in person, and partially to allow them to plan for exams that could be taken in an online format, which ended up being the case. However much I complained at the injustice of having our year extended, a small sacrifice in the current climate, perhaps in hindsight having a lockdown length excuse to get out of all the washing up and gardening at home (sorry mum) because I had to be studying, was a blessing in disguise!
In contrast, Anna provides a different perspective from another third year medical student;
Driving home from Liverpool, I felt like I was heading into the eye of the storm in London, ready with a stash of toilet paper and snacks and to limit my life to family until I found something that would give me a reason to get out of the house.
Initially, I hit the job sites, hoping to find a job in the frontline at a care home or at the newly established Nightingale hospital running out of the Excel arena (a vast change from my last visit for the 2012 Olympic Games). Had I been an independent student still living on my own I probably would have gone head first into the clinical battle field against the novel coronavirus, but I quickly realised that my actions would have negative consequences on my family who have underlying health conditions and also would then be worried for my welfare both mentally and physically. Luckily, I found a middle ground with a job which I still am enjoying on the virtual frontline as a support to the NHS 111 system, where I have learnt the power of a friendly voice on the phone. There I have been able to help people by recognising serious acute illness but also been a helping hand for the large section of our society who have felt isolated and abandoned by the response to the pandemic. It was so rewarding to know that allowing them to voice their concerns was making such an immediate positive difference to their lives and then to encourage them to seek further help if they wanted/required it.
The other main takeaway I have from our response to the COVID pandemic is how important a support network whilst you are suffering can be. For many people this comes in the form of the NHS providing lifesaving care, and for others it is having family and friends around to share the burden with you. Members of my family and friends’ network were unfortunate to see this first-hand through admissions to hospital and deaths, inclusive but not exclusive to COVID-19. Those in hospital longed for the human contact and connection you would usually have with guests and the team treating you. Those on the outside longed to be on the inside allowing a hand to hold and the opportunity to say goodbye.
In so many senses I feel very fortunate to have had a job to keep me busy, beautiful countryside to attempt to run/cycle around and parents who were appreciative of me cooking them meals (I learnt my lesson years ago if I want food I like to cook it myself…) Especially as I know many of my peers, and even myself to a certain extent, felt very lost being at home for an extended period. Having gone from busy hectic weeks of placement, social events and societies to having so much time on our hands, a lack of purpose to our days and weeks and a feeling of regression almost into our childhood lives. Further fuelled a sense of helplessness, emphasised by watching close friends start their working life as a doctor early to try and support the incredible staff throughout the NHS.
I’m sure both of us speak for our peers in saying that these incredible people in the NHS have undoubtedly been an inspiration for us as we progress through medical school to (eventually) become the next generation of doctors.
Maggie Franklin and Anna Horrocks