two frontline workers testing a patient in a white t shirt

February 17, 2021, by Guest Blogger

Covid-19 – What’s it like to work on the frontline?

As lockdown continues and young people are blamed for ignoring the rules, University of Nottingham students share their stories of working on Covid-19 wards.

In the first of a two-part series 4th year medical students Olivia and Opus talk through their emotional experiences and make an impassioned plea to encourage everyone to play their part, keep consciences clear and follow the rules.

Olivia Payne, 4th year medical student

Life as a student and a key worker

Olivia Payne - a UoN frontline worker in a blue blouse.At the beginning of September the situation seemed to be easing and there was a lot of hope. As cases rose, there was a shift in the attitude among healthcare staff. Doctors and nurses seemed increasingly worried, and more hesitant to bring people into the practice to examine. Patients became nervous about attending the practice and would speak with resentment about how it was the students bringing Covid-19 back to Nottingham. This was awkward for me, being both a student and a key worker. This has been a recurrent theme with the media and various sources blaming students for the rise in cases and attributing the reckless behaviour of a minority to spreading the virus around. I think this blame is very misplaced, students have had to deal with confusing rules, no rent or bills breaks and a new isolated lonely life away from home. It is not an easy time to be a young person, and when a lot of students are working really hard on placements with the NHS, the bad reputation doesn’t seem entirely fair.

Treating patients with Covid-19

I’ve been working on a number of different wards and clinics seeing people of all ages. Most recently I’ve been on Obstetrics & Gynaecology placement in Kings Mill Hospital in Mansfield. I have encountered a few pregnant women with Covid-19 in the last few weeks which has been quite difficult.

I have recently spoken to a doctor about one of the women presenting to labour ward with abdominal pain, who then tested positive for Covid-19 and has continued to deteriorate. She is experiencing severe breathing problems and has been transferred to intensive care. There has been debate surrounding all aspects of her care, is the baby’s life endangered due to the mother’s worsening condition, and what is the correct step to take next regarding both of their care? It is uncharted territory for a lot of cases on the labour ward and difficult decisions for staff to make.

The impact on the NHS and following the rules

On more than one occasion I have found healthcare professionals of all levels crying in the staff room, or on their short breaks. Working tirelessly everyday with Covid-19 patients and then reading about how people don’t think it’s real is extremely upsetting.

It can also make me a little angry, people work so hard to protect and treat the public and the ones who flaunt the rules or protest lockdown makes it seem like it is for nothing.

I live in a student area of Nottingham and hearing about house parties still going on is really hard. I try to defend student’s reputation but it can be difficult when selfish behaviour is blatant. I believe that if anyone spent one day in a hospital, seeing the effect Covid-19 has on the patients and the staff, they wouldn’t be so eager to flaunt the rules.  I want to be proud of the way I acted in this pandemic when I tell stories of it when I am older, and I think this is the attitude everyone should adopt.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to study and work inside the NHS at such a critical time, this experience will hopefully make us all stronger, more resilient people who won’t take normal life for granted when it finally returns.

Opusdei Aghanenu, 4th year medical student

Opusdei Aghanenu - a UoN frontline worker.I’ve been on placement in Lincoln County Hospital and the Royal Derby Hospital and completed a number of rotations such as paediatrics, psychiatry and obstetrics and gynaecology. So far, I have assisted healthcare professionals in providing basic care such as taking bloods, carrying out observations and assisted in child birth.

Mixed emotions

I feel privileged to be able to continue my learning, given the circumstances, and make some contribution to patient care where I can.  I am also glad that I can go into my placement and interact with other people, be it patients, peers or staff as it brings some sense of normalcy into to the pandemic and keeps me sane. I think that is quite a fortunate position to be in, as I know that the isolation of the pandemic has really affected people’s wellbeing.

On the other hand, I am very aware on a daily basis that I am venturing into a ‘breeding ground’ for infection and that is really scary, especially being Black, as we have all seen that there are disparities in the risk and outcomes for BAME individuals. I have attended to patients who are infected with Covid-19 and it’s really a courageous act to be in the same enclosed space with them in order to maintain excellent standards of care, even if you are fully decked in PPE. Having home test kits to take twice weekly offers some reassurance to see a negative result.

Hearing about people breaking the rules

It can be very frustrating when thousands of healthcare professionals in the UK are risking their lives (and dying in many cases) caring for patients that are currently infected, or have died of Covid-19.  I understand that it is difficult for a lot of people being in isolation, losing their jobs and the exhaustion of a sustained effort but I really believe that we need to come together and keep pushing to beat the virus.

A plea to play your part

We should all try to be conscientious about our hygiene and our surroundings, i.e. wash hands frequently, wear a mask and keep safe distance away from people from other households. Although it is not strictly related to virus prevention, I also think that self-care and looking after your wellbeing is paramount now more than ever, so taking a break, doing some form of exercise if possible and keeping in touch with your social support networks is something we should all aim for.

Posted in #WeAreUoN