Lee Hudson, a paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, reflects on his positive experiences of the COVID-19 crisis and finds hope.
There are a variety of things to be frustrated about in the current COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m not going to get into any of that here. As an NHS doctor, a paediatrician, I have been lucky enough to work on the frontline with colleagues to tackle the Coronavirus as it has arrived in the UK.
For those doing the right thing by staying indoors, with around-the-clock news streaming into homes, it must at times feel like aliens have invaded. I want to share some of the many positive experiences I have encountered in the last few weeks, for if you haven’t seen it yourself, right now there is much to be amazed at and encouraged by all around us.
The NHS has Transformed
In my neck of the woods, in north central London, children’s hospital services have undergone an amazingly quick and effective transformation in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Children’s wards and their teams have relocated into concentration at Great Ormond Street Hospital to make space for adult patients with COVID-19 elsewhere. This has required a rapid and remarkable amount of collaboration across medical, surgical and mental health services and between community and hospital teams.
Health professionals have formed a collective that is unparalleled in my career, and probably for a generation, coming together as they have to problem-solve around situations and cases that we simply haven’t seen before. For many, this has meant working longer hours, separation from loved ones, fatigue and in some cases contracting the infection themselves.
As an organisational giant often criticised for its bureaucracy and inertia, the NHS has swiftly allowed cut-through of red-tape and adapted rapidly to find novel solutions at a local and larger scale. At a personal level, though I have always cherished my profession and the NHS and my belief and sense of purpose and passion for both have been reinvigorated. I feel privileged to be here to play my part alongside a communal ‘eye of the tiger’ in healthcare that stretches across the world right now.
Children Still Get Ill
Of course, it’s less frenetic for those of us working in child health compared to our friends and colleagues working in adult services and primary care where very unwell patients are presenting in previously unimaginable numbers.
But that should not downplay the huge challenges for child and adolescent care. Children still get unwell with COVID-19 and some get very unwell indeed.
In a communication to members this week, the President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, alerted paediatricians that parents may be delaying seeking in-person healthcare for fear of COVID-19 or not wanting to be a burden at a time of national crisis. This fits anecdotally for me too. Parents should and must feel free to seek help if they are worried about their child.
In the past few weeks, I have seen parents caring for their children in the most stressful and pressured of situations, holding their children with no concern for themselves, sometimes when they are unwell themselves, with unconditional love. A not uncommon observation for a paediatrician in their career, but this is remarkably prominent at the moment.
Inspiration is Everywhere
Inspiration is everywhere you look. I’ve seen staff in hospital serving food, cleaning rooms and wards, security guards protecting access, hospital managers working night and day to keep things running. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, porters and healthcare assistants are looking after patients and each other despite the risk to themselves.
I’ve spoken to people I know in research, technology and policy working around the clock to develop, advise, design and sort processes to fight this crisis. I’ve talked to bus and tube drivers, petrified of getting sick but still doing their job every day to get people to and from work. I’ve met people working in shops, selling us food as we buy it frantically, who are just as scared, but keeping going to work to provide a service.
I’ve also spoken to people who own their own businesses, who we need for a strong economy, but have sacrificed and halted work to prevent the spread of the virus despite their fears of losing everything. I’ve seen my neighbours checking in on each other to make sure that everyone is okay.
And yes, as I wearily arrived home from work one evening, they all came out of their houses and clapped the more obvious people like me, as did a nation. This was glorious and unprecedented, so thank you, and anyone in the NHS who tells you that they didn’t at least have a flicker of a tear in their eye at that moment is fibbing.
Moments of Crisis Bring Out the Best in People
World War Two analogies have been done to death in the UK in recent years and to equate our current crisis with that period is an affront to the far more gargantuan perils, demands and sacrifices of that generation. But, perhaps of all periods in modern times since then, there are noticeable parallels in how moments of crisis can bring out the best in people when confronted with a common peril.
The great wartime correspondent, J. B. Priestly later reflected that: “The British were absolutely at their best in the Second World War. They were never as good, certainly in my lifetime, before it. And I’m sorry to say they’ve never been quite as good after it.”
There’s so much we do not know about this virus but, in recent weeks, I’ve been reminded of everything I need to know about human beings. Despite our various failings, people are fundamentally amazing and always worth fighting for. Perhaps, just perhaps, we might all come out of this more appreciative and caring of one and other.
Like all of us, I long for this to be over, but I do hope our sense of humanity lasts. We must live in hope that it does and indeed hope that is a great piece of armoury we all have and will need in the coming days and months.
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