I live in London and since rents are high here, I share the house with other seven young people. The share house concept is frequent in many cities of the world and I’ll write a separate article about our life in a shared house. I was lucky. The house is big; my housemates are young and have similar interests. We are like a miniature world: two Romanians, one French girl, three English people, one Polish girl and one Australian boy. Until the pandemic started to spread and we went into general quarantine, we really enjoyed spending time together. We were learning cooking recipes from each other, exchanging music tastes and sometimes partying in all styles.
There’s also a girl from Brazil in the house. She came to visit her boyfriend and she remained stuck because the flight on 30 March was cancelled. She couldn’t care less. She remained stuck in the arms of the boy she is in love with and for whom she crossed continents. She told me she’s not in a hurry to go back; anyway, the first flight will be only in May.
The approach of the British Government was different from the mobilisation of other European countries, so while my friends from home were making the first steps towards the new lifestyle in isolation, I was still going to work with the same crowded London subway.
Every evening, all of us were coming back from eight different parts of the city. The probability to bring the virus home was very high. I work in the educational field, with children with autism, and I also have a part-time job as a receptionist, so I interacted daily with hundreds of clients. Marina is a model, Eli works in the fashion industry, Harrison is an engineer, Leighton works in the IT industry, Nicolae is a manager at a crisps factory, and Adrian is an Artificial Intelligence professional. Each of us had daily contact with many other people, and the most exposed one was Martina, as a resident physician.
When the general isolation measures were taken in the UK, Martina was sent home in self-isolation, being suspected to have the Coronavirus. The doctors were not being tested, they were only sent in isolation for one week.
She had fever, dry cough; she lost the sense of smell, and had all the other symptoms of the virus. We brought her food to the door, but we were and still are obsessed with the idea of disinfecting each corner of the common spaces, such as the kitchen, and also avoiding each other in the house.
The Coronavirus cases have grown a lot during the past two weeks, and now there are over 50,000 cases confirmed in England. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care after it was confirmed he has COVID-19. Things are changing from one day to the next.
Current measures allow us to get out of the house only for shopping once a week, to do sports in parks, to help vulnerable people or to go to work if we don’t have the possibility to work from home.
After only one week of isolation, Martina went back to the hospital. I interviewed her about the current situation there.
How are you feeling?
I’m actually good; I’m very positive. I’m back at work now, and I’m ready and firing, you know, that power.
How do you feel like? How is your recovery?
The first day back – I work at the eight floor – I was trying to walk up the stairs. The first day back was very difficult because I had to stop on every floor. I was quite short of breath and I did have a bit of dizziness during the ward runs, on the first day back, but I mean that slowly started to resolve, and I feel much better now, and it’s almost like back to normal. However, I do get occasional breathlessness, by periods, so I hope I’m now immune and they call it a super-human now, apparently.
How is the situation in the hospital now?
I feel we are about to approach a huge storm of patients with the infection, considering we had a lockdown so everything was closed for about two weeks now. It takes exactly two weeks for the initial symptoms to develop. We’re getting towards the peak of patients coming in. We have patients across different ages, so it’s not just easy to say: “Oh, because you’re an elderly, you’ll come to the hospital because you have comorbidities.” We actually have young patients as well and those young patients in ITU – Intensive Care Unit, sorry, ICU – Intensive Care Unit – those people are on ventilators. Our ICU is actually saturated to 80 to 90% already with people, so we are waiting for new ventilators now, but we don’t know when they’re going to come, so it’s quite uncertain.
We’re very short staffed in terms of nurses as they obviously have a more direct contact with patients than we do, and healthcare assistants as well, because they have to dress the patients, they have to clean the patients, etc., so they’ve probably been even more exposed than some of the doctors.
We do see a lot more people wearing masks with patients’ interactions, and most of our ward actually covered positive patients now.
Do you wear a mask or any other equipment during work?
In my ward, so far people who were tested positive are in isolation rooms, so-called side rooms. If they are suspected, sorry… They are in a side room, so they are in different base. In general, if people are suspected to have COVID-19, we just wear basic surgical masks. If I could just grab one for you… I actually brought some from work. That’s a basic surgical mask, it looks like this, and it’s got a bit of an adjustment for your nose so you could have a seal, like a better tight, a tighter seal, sorry, and then you just wrap it around your head. Then we wear gloves and a kind of an apron, it’s like a shape of an apron that you would wear in the kitchen, but it’s plastic.
We also have scrubs at work that we change daily. For the bigger masks, for the patients who are confirmed COVID, they’re actually FFP3 masks, which have a nicer filter and a tighter seal.
There’s actually some protection but I feel like we should probably be escalating it to a bit better things, but we’re very short of it. The whole world is short of it, so we just have to be very careful how we use it.
It’s very upsetting because people will going to die; I mean we’ve already seen people dying. We’ve already seen patients who were coming into hospital already dying. It’s very sad because it’s a viral infection, and for viral infections, our treatment is best supportive care.
We do treat with antibiotics, for cover, for extra coinfections with bacteria, which commonly coexist with the viral infections. However, it’s just the best that we can, so if you’re short of breath and you’re desaturating, that means the oxygen level in your blood drops, then we would put you on oxygen, and maximum we could put you on is 15 litres. So if you can’t maintain your saturation above 95%, then that’s quite bad, and we’ve had patients who were saturating on 80% and they were going down and down with 15 litres, and there was nothing we could do. So it’s very frustrating seeing that and knowing that those patients have a lot of comorbidities so if we were to put them on a ventilator, for a time being until the infection resolves and then extubate them, they would not survive.
From now on, the NHS staff shall be tested. Have you started testing medical professionals?
That is true that in my hospital I know they started testing the ICU workers so it’s where patients who are in intensive care unit are.
They are trying to develop the anti-body testing to make sure that people are fit and ready to go back to work, the so-called super-humans, with the immunity now. Hopefully, that will be developed a little bit sooner because the problem is we’re so short of these things and we have to be again very careful who we test because we can’t just throw tests randomly, there’ll be not enough people to actually perform those tests.
We take it day by day. Our policies, our guidelines change daily and we get updates daily. We get education webinars after work as well, as we can’t really meet in bigger groups with doctors or nurses as teams. We now have everything online, just like you and I are talking now. We have those kind of webinars because that’s what life is like currently.