Coronavirus has taken over our lives. 2020 has become one of the most trying years for the world. Midwifery has changed in more ways than one. Here I share the story so far through my lived experiences.
The First Seven Months
February 2020 – news of a virus spread. Lives were being lost in Wuhan, a region of China. Honestly, I never took it seriously. I assumed it would be over in a few weeks and that it would never make way to the UK. Over the next few weeks, posters were stuck on walls around the hospital. Those who had travelled from Wuhan and a few other regions were on high alert. There was news of a few cases in the UK, but life continued as normal. I then went away on holiday, as I landed in Pakistan (a journey that took over 48 hours) I heard the news of the spike in the UK. Family and friends here in the UK were convincing me that I was much safer over in Pakistan where cases were minimal and lock downs were already in motion. I was due to fly back on the 24th March however the Pakistani Airspace closed 8pm on 21st March and I was stuck in Pakistan for a lot longer than I initially expected. I made it back to the UK on 4th April, everything was silent. I finally understood how I was better off in Pakistan.
My very first shift during the COVID outbreak was a few days after my Pakistan trip. Since I had left there had been a huge shift in the way care was provided. Gloves, mask, and apron were now compulsory, guidance was confusing and forever changing. Very soon I realised that I had missed a great deal in three weeks. I missed the open air of Pakistan!
I recall walking to work on my first day back. The roads were silent, I could count the number of cars I saw on one hand! It was very eerie. The walk back from work was no different, just a very weird atmosphere. Sort of like one of those horror movies where the main character wakes up one day to find that their town is completely deserted. They proceed to run around frantically in a bid to source out any remains of human life only to find that a flesh eating monster (created by a group of questionable scientists as per the instructions of a corrupt government) has their loved one’s hostage in an underground laboratory and the only way they can be saved is if they (the main character) identifies the monsters weak point… You get the jist…
In recent months I have found Midwifery to be challenging. PPE has become a barrier to one of the simplest yet most effective methods of care, touch. Human touch is so powerful, it enables a therapeutic relationship between care giver and receiver. It provides a sense of reassurance. Having to hold back on what my instincts are telling me has been hard. On my first shift back during COVID I looked after a patient who was terribly upset and normally, I would have held her hand, gave her a hug and reassured her. Two of those three I could no longer do. It was confusing and upsetting…
Around 6 weeks ago I came home from work and found my dad to be very unwell. He shrugged it off, but instincts were telling me all was not right. I booked a COVID test for him despite his best efforts to show me that he is 100% fit and healthy. I had to contact work and let them know that I am awaiting a COVID test and could not attend work. The guilt that comes with knowing you are leaving your colleagues a man down during a pandemic is not great. Six days after my dad tested positive, I began to feel unwell. My body was aching, I had a weird taste in my mouth, and I was extremely fatigued. It was one of those “when you know, you know” moments. As anticipated, I tested positive. For the first three days I could not move! I was sleeping 20 hours of the day and remained isolated in my bedroom. It was very lonely. I took more paracetamol in these few days than I had my entire life! A week later I began to feel more like myself, but the tiredness remained. One afternoon I was sick of watching Netflix and decided to paint. I got all my bits and pieces out and as I went to pick up the paintbrush, I realised I could not hold the brush for longer than a few seconds. This was an incredibly low moment for me. It was a horrible feeling; I had read a lot about people who have gone on to suffer from autoimmune and inflammatory diseases post COVID and this is what I feared the most.
After 16 days of isolation I was back at work and still I felt so tired. I had felt so low and lonely through that I was excited to be back at work. But I felt slower at work and continue to feel like this now. I remember having a conversation with my brother and telling him that I feel like I have lost a few brain cells with COVID (you can guess his response). I am still experiencing brain fog today. It feels as though I am a little empty up there and I often cannot recall what I have needed to do. I need brain training exercises, my attention span has plummeted significantly, and I feel fatigued most of the time! For someone who is generally fit and well, having COVID really took it out of me. However, I do feel as though the fear of COVID, and the constant media coverage played into how I felt. I wonder if I were not required to isolate for the 10 days would I have recovered sooner?
The Second Wave
With a second lockdown looming over us it is perfectly natural to feel worried. As I have already mentioned, work has been difficult especially over recent weeks. I feel like the NHS is at breaking point, some days I feel like I am at breaking point. More and more patients are coming in having tested positive for COVID. An already overstretched service is understaffed. Most days staff are redeployed to areas where staffing is dire – this is happening across the country. I feel completely exhausted. Trying to achieve the perfect balance between ensuring wholesome experiences for the women and their families and keeping myself, my colleagues, and the families we go home to safe has been challenging. After recovering from COVID myself, I felt almost invincible. I did not fear it anymore however over the past fortnight the fear has creeped in and now, encountering COVID positive patients daily has left me fearing I could still take it home to my loved ones.
It is one of the most confusing and consuming times of my life. Some days I feel like a conspiracy theorist and other days I am overwhelmed with the fear of the virus. I went out for lunch after months and upon seeing the test and trace system I was afraid I would have to take time off work and isolate if someone within 2 metres of me had symptoms. I would rather not take the risk. I am not sure about others working in the healthcare sector but I for one feel very conflicted. I tell myself that work is not my entire life, yet I cannot ignore the guilt that eats away at me when I think about how hard it will be for my colleagues at work.
Just a few days ago I renewed my Midwifery Registration (£120 a year to continue practicing as a midwife) and as I completed the payment, I wondered to myself whether it was worth it. But when I signed up to work as a Midwife, to work for the NHS I knew that there would be challenges ahead, helping bringing life into the world and encountering grief and in some cases death. Prioritising other people and reinforcing the public’s trust in myself and my colleagues as healthcare professionals is key to my role. I love my work, even on the rough days and knowing that I have the privilege and capability to support families through these trying times is what fuels my passion for it. My midwifery philosophy has always been to treat a patient how I would want my sister to be treated and if there is any chance that the care I provide could make a positive difference to someone’s experience then I know that both my colleagues and I will always go above and beyond to achieve this.
We can all see that the world is in complete chaos. From complaining about having to wear face masks to now not feeling complete without it to now having to wear additional PPE with each patient contact. The pressure is on. Now more than ever I hope that people will follow lockdown rules and take precautions where necessary. Everyone wants normality to be restored and if we all work towards this shared goal then the optimist in me believes we can achieve it.
I have managed to find several coping mechanisms to help relieve workplace stress and ensuring I do not “burn out”. This involves minimising out of work stressors, making sure I do not put pressure on myself to be “productive” which is why my blog posts are not so frequent! Speaking with colleagues and sharing experiences is sometimes the reassurance that you need! Painting has recently become my wind down exercise and I absolutely love it! Most importantly for me has been my faith. It has been my comfort blanket. There is a verse in the Quran:
“And we will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient… Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.”
Surah Al-Baqarah (155-156), The Holy Quran
Holding onto the faith that I have has helped me through many hardships in life, just knowing that this world will throw me many curveballs and how I deal with them is what matters. I always tell myself that the situation could be worse, and I should be grateful that I have only been tested to this degree. For some this may be “toxic positivity”, but it is a mindset that for me is beneficial. (toxic positivity – a blog for another day).
Lockdown Part 2
The lockdown will be hard on everyone, it is no surprise that the suicide rates have increased, the people’s mental health is suffering but we are all in the same boat so please do not feel alone in this period. Reach out to friends and family, arrange Zoom parties, dress up for dinner with the family. I for one will leave my (virtual) door open and if anyone wants a chat about anything or nothing, I am here for just that!