Posted in family, friendship, Nursing

Overwhelming acts of kindness

I was going to write a post of all the things I can no longer do because of the coronavirus pandemic, until I realised how shallow, counterproductive and self-indulgent that would be.

I an far luckier than most: young enough that the risk to my personal health is low, a profession that will pay me even if I have to call in sick in the event that I show symptoms, having the means to get treatment, and a home with access to internet and Netflix.

Other people are barely getting by. People who earn daily wages or who have been forced to go on unpaid leave are now wondering how they are going to support their families through this. The elderly population, who are most at risk, face the likelihood that if they get this virus the mortality rate is about 9%. That might seem small on paper, but it converts to thousands of deaths, thousands of lives lost, and one of them could be your loved ones.

Sometimes I read the news and its enough to send me into a spiral of hopelessness and fear. I have trouble sleeping most nights because I keep thinking of my friends, mostly nurses, who are running out of PPE; and my family, scattered all round the world, some of them with limited access to proper health care.

But there are things that keep me going, daily reminders that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that if we all stay calm, sensible and united we will get through this. So rather than indulging in reminiscing about things I can no longer do, or things that I don’t have (or indulging in a nervous breakdown) I’ve decided to make a list of the overwhelming acts of kindness that have seen me through these past couple of weeks:

A chatgroup of fellow nurses and close friends, created initially to plan parties but have now become a place to whine, vent and generally keep each other sane.

A colleague, offering to print and laminate things for me when I seem overwhelmed with the things I need to do at work.

An unexpected ally, telling me I need to be supported because I’m so busy doing teaching, and offering to do my coordinating shifts for me so I can just focus on what I need to do.

My boss telling me to go home early so I can rest and take care of myself.

An unexpected text from a rep I work with closely telling me to stay safe on the frontlines.

An offer from another rep, asking me to let him know if things get too busy so he can deliver food for the staff to eat.

The nightly salutes and tributes to health care workers in France, Spain, Belgium and other parts of Europe.

Daily texts and messages from family and friends telling me and my sister to keep safe.

Pret, Carluccio, Leon and other restaurants offering free drinks and/or 50% discount on all items for NHS staff.

A reply from someone who means so much to me, someone I’ve unintentionally let down and been out of touch with for almost a year, a reconnection that has made my world spin on the right axis again.

And finally, a close friend sending a care package to my parents, who live in a remote area in the Philippines where access to health care and medicine are limited. Thanks to her and her partner, my parents – who own a grocery store and who are staying open so people can still buy essentials like rice and canned goods – will have a supply of masks, Vitamin C, paracetamol and a thermometer. The sheer generosity of it makes me want to cry.

Sometimes you think you’ve never achieved anything great or meaningful in your life, that you’ve made the wrong choices, and have made far too many mistakes. But I don’t know. Somewhere, somehow, I must have done something right, to have people around me that I can count on when the going gets rough.

My only aim today, as I go through yet another day in the hospital, is to pass on the kindness I’ve received. Let’s make love and generosity a pandemic, and may it continue to be so long after the impact of Coronavirus has been forgotten.

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Medical

Education is Key

Its the weekend and I’ve never been so glad to see the end of a work week. Everyone’s a bit tense, and I think we’re all bracing ourselves because it feels a little bit like the calm before the storm. We’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop, and anyone who says they’re not even a little bit terrified is either obtuse or lying.

I think everyone’s a bit frazzled in a controlled, productive sort of way. It’s the kind of mild anxiety that leads to contingency plans being sorted and people being mobilised. My personal belief in all of this is that we need to educate as many people as we can on precautions, and what type of personal protective equipment (PPE) to use.

Essentially, coronavirus is spread through droplet transmission, meaning you can get it directly if you’re within 6 feet of anyone who coughs or sneezes. You can also get it indirectly if you touch surfaces that have been contaminated by those droplets. It enters via our mucous membranes, so that’s eyes, nose and mouth. For health care workers, the risk is when we do aerosol-generating procedures like intubation or suctioning because then the virus becomes airborne and can then travel greater distances.

Masks are useful, but really standard precaution and good hand-washing are the gold standard. This is an enveloped virus that is susceptible to alcohol-based products, so hand sanitisers and Clinell wipes are effective against it. Soap and water will do just fine but it takes a bit longer to get rid of the virus that way. The FFP3 mask will give protection when the virus becomes airborne and should be worn by those that need it the most, especially when resources become scant. The virus can stay on surfaces for a few days unless you clean it. A lot of this information is available on Public Health England, and the guidelines are continuously updated.

Personally, I am exhausted from talking and training all day. I feel a bit drained from doing information boards and making grab bags that staff can take in case they need to respond rapidly in an emergency. But I feel like I need to do my part in all of this. I will not have the necessary skills for when patients become acutely unwell, but education and preparation I can do.

I’ve never felt the weight of being a health care professional more than I did the past couple of weeks. Someone texted me today to say he thought we’re all heroes, and I got a bit teary-eyed because most of the time I feel like we’re not doing enough, but actually just willing to be on the frontlines is probably more than enough. One of my colleagues said she thought I looked tired and was getting pulled into too many directions at once, and she thought we should have a meeting to plan how to support me in the next couple of weeks. Another was working side by side with me sorting out packs, laminating and putting up signs and doing what it takes to get the job done.

I’m not pretending everything’s all rosy in the NHS, but I don’t feel alone either. There’s people willing to help, and everyone’s genuinely trying their best. I think people are looking out for each other, and I know everyone will pull together so its all hands on deck if it gets crazy.

So yeah, I guess we are heroes. Heroes that also need to take care of themselves so we can do our jobs in the coming weeks. So I’m heading off to sleep now, tired, but feeling light-hearted and optimistic about our chances of getting though this.

Posted in family, Health and Well-Being, Medical

Home is where the heart is

As the Philippines goes on lockdown I find my thoughts straying to where it usually goes these days as news about the spread of coronavirus pile up daily: my family.

I’ve adjusted reasonably well to being an overseas worker, living far from home and being away from my parents and most of the people I love. But its times like these when the reality of being an OFW hits you the most, when you are helpless to do anything except give your parents advice through Facebook and hope to God they’re keeping themselves safe.

There is nothing more I want to do right now than take my dad’s vital signs and check if mum is taking her daily dose of Vitamin C. I want to make sure they have supplies of paracetamol and face masks. I’m torn between telling them to stay in the remote area where we live, where the risk for contracting the virus is lower but where medical care is laughably rubbish, or telling them to go to the city where I have more confidence in the health care system but also where the number of tourists (and the sheer number of people) makes me really twitchy.

Mum goes to church every day, it is an essential part of who she is. I want to advise her not to do that anymore until this passes, but at the same time I can’t help but feel like, at this point, prayers along with sensible hand washing will get us through the day. I found myself this week going to church every day after work. The other day there was an elderly couple there praying the rosary, the only other people apart from myself in that cavernous house of worship. I stayed a bit to join them. The whole time I can hear mum’s voice in my head telling me I’m doing the right thing.

This is a really rambling post, I know. It’s mostly borne out of worry, and this really strong urge I got this morning to jump on a plane and just be with family. I used to revel in my independence, and I loved the thought of being in the big city and making it on my own. But when push comes to shove, and the world goes to hell in a hand basket, home really is the only place where I want to be. And at the moment that is not a geographic location, its a facebook messenger group where all the members of my family gather to share bits and pieces of our separate lives.

At the moment that will have to be enough…

Posted in Health and Well-Being, london, Medical

Err on the side of caution…

I’ve been glued to Twitter and the news for any updates on the so-called ‘delay’ measures that the British government is supposedly announcing today. So far all I’ve got is a bunch of tweets criticising the Tory government (elected by the majority of the people. Just saying) and soundbites from our fearless leader that, if true, makes me really scared about how this country is going to cope when things take a turn for the worse.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, our President has shut down travel by land, air or sea to and from the capital, an unpopular decision but one that will hopefully help contain the virus. President Trump has issued a lockdown on all travel to and from Europe, except the UK. Other countries will no doubt follow suit. One can’t help but think, well what about us? Apart from the heightened paranoia there hasn’t been a drastic change in the daily lives of the British public; at least, not in London.

I made the decision today to cancel my planned trip to Greece. I’m pretty sure I’d be fine travelling, and I’d probably be able to get back into the country without being placed on quarantine. But I just feel like things are changing so much at the moment and everything is so up in the air that now really isn’t the time to be visiting instagram-worthy tourist sites. Besides, as much as visions of being stranded in Athens and eating gyros and pitas for a couple of weeks might be appealing to some, if the worst happens I’d much rather be in a familiar environment, close to my beloved NHS.

I guess the point of all of this is that I would much rather err on the side of caution rather than take unnecessary risks. I love travelling as much as the next person, and it pains me to think about all the disruptions this might potentially cause to planned family trips and get-togethers. But I’d much rather be alive to travel without worrying about the threat of severe illness next year when this would have all boiled over (fingers crossed).

I’ve also decided not to put too much stock on what they say in the news. I mean I’d keep myself updated about travel bans and government measures and whatnot, but for every expert that says we’re all doomed there’s another one that says we’re all going to be fine. I think the thing to do is focus on the things that we can control, like personal hygiene and cleaning of surfaces and taking our daily vitamins. We can try to be reasonable and sensible about social distancing, and we should definitely think about how our actions could affect others. Like I said in a previous post, a crisis is not an excuse to forget basic human decency.

I think this coronavirus outbreak has the potential to change the world forever, but I also think people have short memories. Whatever lesson we learn from this I doubt half the world’s population will remember it when the world starts to turn again and we’re all taking selfies before the Trevi fountain once more. Still, its hard to imagine what the outcome of all this will be and where we’ll stand in three months time. It keeps me up at night, wondering if the world will ever be normal again….

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Medical, Nursing

Is it really business as usual?

I sit here having just had several meetings and training sessions to prepare our staff for an outbreak of coronavirus, a day after Italy imposed a lockdown on the entire country, and I find myself feeling more confused than fearful.

On one hand the news coming out from health care professionals in Bergamo and other regions of Italy that were most affected by coronavirus paint a picture of something almost akin to a war zone. It’s scary to think that in 14 days that could be us.

But of course no one really thinks this will happen to us until it happens. The Prime Minister apparently advised the public to just ‘take it on the chin’, other newspapers still say not to panic, its just another strain of the flu; thousands of people die of the flu each year and no one’s ever made a fuss.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the doomsday proclaimers who are predicting the apocalypse every chance they get, causing mass hysteria and an ongoing panic buying of – of all things – pasta, paracetamol and bloody toilet paper. If you ask these people we might as well give up on any semblance of normal life right now and accept that we will all be stuck in our homes, quarantined, within the fortnight.

I personally think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’m glad that I work for an organisation that seems to be taking the risk very seriously and is doing all that could be done to protect patients and staff.

I had a moment where I imagined what life is going to be like if what happened in Italy does happen to the UK. What will it be like when the call to arms is sounded and its all hands on deck because we have more patients than medics?

Its scary to think about the kind of responsibility I will potentially have by virtue of my profession, and that I don’t have the luxury of refusing to come to duty because I want to look out for myself. I will have to take a backseat to my patients, my needs will be secondary to theirs. To be honest with you I’m not sure I have that kind of selflessness in me, I’m not sure whether I won’t have a moment of selfishness where I question why I have to do these things.

But then I think about soldiers going to war for their country, and where we would be if they refused to fight because they’re scared and they want to look out for themselves. They don’t have the luxury to run, and I’m sure they have selfish moments too, but they somehow find the mental fortitude and courage to be on the frontlines of a war, fighting for freedom and fighting for people they love as well as virtual strangers who might not even remember their names when they die.

I know its a morbid thought, but I guess my main point is only that I hope I find that same fortitude and compassion to do my duty anyway, whether I’m willing or not. I don’t think its wrong to reflect on a very real, very human instinct to run away from it all and survive. But I’m hoping that the instinct to care and to help will prevail.

These are not the kind of thoughts I would normally have on a daily basis. There would normally be more people on the Underground, its unusual to find people who are not Asian tourists walking around Oxford Street with masks on. The overarching feeling seems to be that of paranoia. People are actually being stopped on the street. If you look even remotely Asian, random people will suddenly shout ‘Wuhan!’ and be rude to you, as if you’ve single-handedly brought this virus into the country.

Its day one after Italy made the unprecedented decision to lockdown the country, and even in skeptical UK its not business as usual. I suspect it will get worse before it gets better. I’m probably going to write about unfolding events from my personal perspective in the days to come. In the meantime, keep calm, take reasonable precautions, wash your hands and keep safe everyone!

Posted in Uncategorized

There is a light that never goes out

Last night I was on the grips of one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced in my life. You see, I have these irrational fears that visit me from time to time, usually at night. It varies slightly depending on the trigger, but the end result is the same: I lie on my bed, scared, heart pounding, convinced that I’m about to die from a heart attack.

It’s very difficult for me to admit this to anyone. Such is the stigma of mental health issues that I find myself brushing this under the rug and treating it like a joke when its probably (actually) a legitimate problem. At the moment, its not debilitating enough to affect my activities of daily living. I can still talk myself down from the ledge that my fears bring me to. Usually I just need someone to tell me how ridiculous I’m being.

But I am well aware that there is a line I might cross and never be able to get back from if I don’t start dealing with my issues.

For whatever reason, the fear of death has haunted me for most of my adult life. It is one of the driving forces of everything that I do, whether I’m conscious of it or not. I guess the fear fits in with my personality. I don’t like uncertainties, I loathe the idea of something being unknown to me, and I absolutely detest not being fully in control. There is nothing more uncertain, more unknown or more out of our control than death.

I have issues. I’m ashamed to say that I’m very ashamed to admit that out loud, to admit that – as well-adjusted as I am most of the time – there is a part of my brain that doesn’t work as it should, that triggers that helpless, hopeless feeling that life as I know it is about to end. I’m still trying to come to grips with the reality of living with this, and how I might get help.

When it comes to mental health, the journey is individual. Different things work for different people. Even with medications: no two patients will react in the exact same way to a drug. We all have to do and stick with what works for us. So what works for me? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Running has helped me immensely. I cannot stress enough how thankful I am that I built up this habit of running in the morning before work. Sometimes I think its the one thing that’s keeping me sane.

Talking to people about it, being able to open up about my anxieties, and not being judged for it – this helps too. I found out during my panic attack that there are people who will literally drop everything to come keep me company just because I said I was feeling scared. You find out very quickly who your true friends are when you reveal some of the worst parts of yourself.

Lastly, today I voluntarily went to church for the first time in a long long while. It was to keep a promise I made last night, when I was gripping the rosary so tight praying to God that I make it through the night. As we grow older it becomes harder and harder to believe some of the beliefs that seemed so infallible and irrefutable when we were younger: like answered prayers, heaven and life ever after. Being part of the medical community, and being friends with people who don’t share my faith and where I’m constantly being asked to explain the LOGIC of the Catholic religion probably did not help, although I wish to apportion the majority of the blame for my lost faith where it rightly belongs: with me.

There is no logic to faith, that’s why we refer to it as a leap of faith, rather than a series of scientific steps. If faith can be explained, it would be called another name. There is no reasonable explanation as to why praying ten Hail Mary’s while gripping scented beads bring me immeasurable comfort when I’m scared. All I know is that it does.

So today I went to church and just prayed and talked to God the way I would talk to myself. I asked for guidance, and I asked for strength. Mostly I asked Him to help me find my faith again, to help me believe that there is a life waiting for me on the other side of this where I could be with my family and loved ones forever. I know there’s no proof that heaven exists. But there is also no proof that it doesn’t.

I got up after praying and noticed a light in the corner of the church for people to draw from if they want to light candles. Its a flame that is being kept alive so that people who need just a little bit more hope than usual can see it and know that there is a light that never goes out, and that light is called faith.

I keep you all in my prayers, and I hope you keep me in yours.

Posted in Current Events, Health and Well-Being

A Brief Pause to Examine the State of the World

I’ve often been accused of being ignorant about what’s going on with the rest of the world. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t keep up with the news and current events as much as someone my age probably should. In my defense, its not because I don’t care, its because it genuinely depresses me to read about the endless wars and political squabbles. It seems like every time you turn a page or switch on the telly, a city is being bombed, a horrendous leader is being elected, something like Brexit is becoming a reality…there’s nothing in the news that I want to read and internalise.

2020 has changed all that though.

2020 has forced me to really sit up and take notice of what’s going on around me. It’s only March and it feels like this year has lasted a decade. First there were fires in Australia, and then the increasing conflict between the US and Iran that made me seriously consider learning German so that if a war breaks out I can move to Switzerland and be able to work there. And now we have this coronavirus that’s causing a mass outbreak of paranoia, fear and even hysteria. Its hard to believe we’re still in the first quarter of the year because so much has already happened.

As a health care professional I’m on the fence about how much precaution to take with this COVID-19 thing. I agree that all non-essential travels to affected countries should be avoided, and I’m quite glad that people are now more aware of the importance of handwashing: its the first line of defense against infection, people. Its one of the first things we learn in nursing school.

On the other hand, some of the things that people get up to are just borderline silly. Pharmacies and drugstores are running short on masks and hand sanitiser, fair enough, but people stocking up on so much toilet paper that some supermarkets now have a shortage? Get a grip. Even more alarming, some people are actually stealing masks and sanitisers from NHS hospitals. How bloody counterproductive. If this thing becomes the epidemic/pandemic that the WHO is projecting it to be, the NHS will be the go-to place for very sick patients, might be best to leave their resources alone.

On a more personal note, its disheartening to see the amount of racism that’s come out because of the coronavirus outbreak. I sneezed in Chinatown a couple of weeks ago and was given a dirty look. Last night I was actually stopped because I coughed in public. I was attempting to clear my airway because I choked on my own spit, it was NOT a productive cough. But because I have very Asian features this person thought she had the right to physically stop me on the street to tell me to cover my mouth. I have now developed an irrational fear of clearing my throat or coughing in public. I am not entirely sure I’d be safe if I exhibit anything that even remotely resembles respiratory symptoms.

I understand the fear, I really do. I wouldn’t wish to underplay how serious this is. The combination of how infectious the virus is and how quickly its transmitted from person to person is a genuine cause for concern. But I don’t think an epidemic excuses racism, or theft. Life is already being disrupted by this. Travel is affected. Gatherings have been cancelled. I can’t even shake hands during the peace offering when I attend mass. I don’t think we should compound this by forgetting basic human decency.

The key thing to remember with this is awareness and containment. There are a lot of things about this that we can’t control, but we are all still the master of our own actions. If you’ve been in contact with anyone suspected of having this virus or have recently travelled to a high-risk area, take the 14-day quarantine. Its annoying, but think of the greater good. I promise to give you a list of Netflix shows that will make the confinement a bit more bearable. If you’ve travelled anywhere recently and are showing symptoms, I think its only sensible to self-quarantine also.

Apart from that, handwashing, handwashing, and handwashing is really at the heart of preventing transmission. And also keeping a healthy distance away from your fellowman. This is a good excuse for me to carry on with my self-imposed dating hiatus. At this rate anyone who sees me will probably run screaming if I so much as sniffle anyway. There’s no point attempting to go on a date (this is my excuse and I’m sticking to it). Personally I would avoid the tube at rush hour or walk if I can. This might be a good time to pick up the habit of running to and from work.

There is no need to panic, and we’re not helping ourselves by inciting fear in others or downplaying how serious this is (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump). Conspiracy theories, as fun as they are to pick apart, don’t help anyone. Let us all try to live our lives as normally as we can and try not to be active agents of infection. I don’t know about you, but I’m still optimistic that, just like any other viral disease, this will run its course very soon and we can get on with the business of living.

Hope springs eternal.