Wednesday 11th March 2020 18:48 Text Message Alert
“If you are on Clinical Placement, please do not attend tomorrow and Friday… please see the email from Dean of Medicine. “
Wednesday the 11th of March… A turning point for our careers.
The Medical School had placed a huge emphasis on being able to contact us via email and phone throughout our six years of training. So far, it had been used for rescheduling teaching or changing lecture locations. In fact, attendance throughout medical training is stringent. Yet, here we were towards the end of our training with an urgent message , sent outside of office hours, informing us to NOT attend clinical placement. It was unheard of.
In other circumstances, it might have been a cause for celebration. I remember a friend’s voice faintly asking whether this was our equivalent of a snow day...the silence across the table acknowleged what we all knew. The infectious virus had crossed borders and was too close to home. So close to us that hospital life as we knew was about to change dramatically.
My friends & I were sat in the local ‘Font‘ bar near the University campus that evening. A suggestion to calm our nerves on what was already a tense night for the next stage of our training; the Deanery selections were due to go live over night. Unlike many other medical schools, our final year as student doctors didn’t revolve around examinations (which we sat a year earlier than most), but on gaining the skills and experiences to act as competent Foundation Year One Doctors.
It’s the year where adulting truly begins, as we make life decisions, apply for our first jobs across the country and hope we match into the region of the U.K we want. Yes, we can be sent across the country, into rural Scotland or even the Isle of Man in pursuit of our careers. So on this fateful night, we had gathered to provide some light relief to our mounting nerves about the result that would decide where we would be packing our bags to go live.
The journey to become a doctor is a long one; I began preparing for my application when I was 14 years at the GCSE stage, with many hurdles to jump through, before 5 or 6 years of training. Yet in that final 6th year, it felt like it was fast approaching. The Deanery result that fateful night was a sign that we were soon to be Doctors. A prospect that was still daunting at times, however much we knew we were as well prepared as we could be. The clock was ticking.
The general atmosphere in hospital had shifted over the six weeks of my Anaesthetic placement. We watching from afar at China’s updates about a novel virus, COVID-19; the idea that it would affect our daily lives felt so incomprehensible. Until we sat in our lunch break silently watching Italy’s Doctors’ pleading us to heed warning as they rapidly made new ITU units. Maybe it felt more real for me working with the very team who would be pivotal in this context; the anaesthetists would be required to aid with ventilation of the most unwell patients. Then a Doctor tested positive in the Hospital. Fit mask testing started to be implemented for masks. The trainee anaesthetists had simulation PPE training. Emails about preserving gown stock were received. There was growing unease in hospital.
With my Public Health background, I understood the gravity of the situation. Time was critical. Actions needed to be focused and purposeful. The difference between an infectious disease and an outbreak, is merely one catalytic event. Outside of hospital, the world continued and I tried to absorb the surreal situation that was building.
Until, Wednesday 11th March 2020 when the WHO announced the COVID19 outbreak as a Pandemic.
That evening on the 11th March, I wished my friends Good Luck and headed back to the safety of my home. I was relieved to match into the Deanery of my choice. The prospect of becoming a Doctor felt tangibly close.
The days that followed reflected a seismic shift around me. The public became wary of the outdoors and activities that used to constitute day-to-day life. Supermarkets struggled as panic ensued with stockpiling. On the 23rd of March 2020, the U.K went into Lockdown.
On the 30th of March 2020, I put my scrubs back on and volunteered to re-enter Hospital in a Pre-Foundation clinical role to work on Covid wards.