Posted in bloggers, Health and Well-Being, Medical

The Weight of the World

In most dystopian/apocalyptic movies there’s always that one person willing to stay behind to detonate a bomb that will obliterate an asteroid into a million pieces, thus delaying the end of the world and ensuring we get to live to die another day.

And then there’s the other guy, the guy who will fight tooth and nail to make sure he has a spot on the last lifeboat so he doesn’t sink with the Titanic, the guy who runs the other way when it looks like shit is going to hit the fan, the one who gets going when the going gets rough.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as we enter the third week of lockdown. The reality of what we’re experiencing has started to sink in and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t affected me psychologically. I’d feel like a fraud if I tell everyone to stay positive, because that is the complete opposite of what I’m feeling these days.

I’m a nurse and I work for the NHS. Full disclosure, I don’t have the skill set necessary to work on the frontlines in the ITU, but at the moment there are still other health battles being fought out there that are not related to Covid19, such as cancer patients who need surgery to survive, and they too deserve equal care and attention.

That is what our team are focusing on at the moment: ensuring that everyone who needs an operation can still get one done, while on the background the situation with coronavirus gets worse and worse, hard to ignore, and putting added pressure on an already stressful environment.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have never been one to stay on the sidelines. Its not overstating it to say that I have natural leadership abilities. It stems from the desire to be useful, from the need to make a difference.

But I also have extreme control issues. I often find it difficult to see the big picture because I get fixated on the smallest details. I need facts, and I need clear instructions. I like rules, and I like guidelines, because I think the world would be a much better place if we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

So its not surprising, with all the uncertainty and fluidity going on, that my nerves have been feeling a little frayed. No one can really say what the best course of action is, so things change from one breath to the next and its driving me bonkers. I felt myself to be on the verge of some sort of breakdown last week, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

In my line of work I am used to being the person in charge, the person people run to when they want someone to make a decision. And normally I would be fine with that, but there is nothing normal about this. I don’t feel equipped to make those decisions. Both as a healthcare professional and as a leader I have never felt more out of my depth than I’ve felt these past couple of weeks.

Every time I had to make a decision, I second guessed myself. It felt like no matter what you do you were doing something wrong. In the space of half an hour you’d have someone complimenting you for a job well done and another telling you that what you’re doing is a complete waste of time and resources.

It got to the point where I thought to myself, I can’t do this anymore. I would rather be the one doing the work than the one calling the shots. It made me realise that we don’t fully appreciate how much of a toll all of this takes on leaders, be it hospital management or government officials.

Its so easy to whinge and point out the flaws in the plan. Its harder when you’re the person people expect to come up with the plan in the first place.

I finally made the choice last week to take a few days off in order to have a little R and R. I spent four days in my living room couch, with a mound of pillows and a wool blanket, creating what my sister called my little “nest”, and having an Agents of Shield marathon. There was an element of denial to what I was doing, focusing on other people and their fictional problems, but I make no apologies for the methods I employ to cope with stress.

And I make no apologies for the box of stuffed crust pepperoni pizza I consumed to make myself feel better.

I guess my point in all of this is to say that sometimes, its okay to be the guy in the movie who’s just doing what he can to survive. Its okay to pass the buck to someone else when you feel like you’re not coping anymore, to say ‘I’m way in over my head here, I don’t know what to do, and I need help.”

Not that I’m urging anyone to be selfish, and I’m not telling anyone to stop doing all they can to make a difference. But what I AM saying is that you don’t need to be a hero, you don’t need to be the person with all the answers ALL THE TIME. No one expects that of you, and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself.

The healthiest thing I did last week was to remind myself that its not all down to me. I need to focus on the things that I have control over and let go of the things that I don’t.

Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Its bad for your mental health. Leave the heroics to the fictional superheroes of the world. The rest of us just live here, doing what we can, and that’s perfectly fine too.

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 bloggers, Celebrities, london, Medical, Movies

A Day in The Life of a Wannabe Film Star

Lights. Camera. Action.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with the crew at BBC to do some test shots on a documentary that they’re planning to pitch to Netflix. The idea is to go into operating theatres around the world and follow surgeons around to give viewers some insight of what they see and go through on a daily basis. Needless to say, they needed the perspective of a subject matter expert, which I just happen to be.

The production team emailed us to say that call time was at 8am, far too early to be out of bed on a Saturday morning when you’ve been drinking the night before, but what do you do when the promise of fame awaits? My friend (another subject matter expert) and I arrived at the mock operating theatre to find it mostly empty because the crew were still figuring out how to get all their fancy expensive equipment into the building.

So, just like Robert Downey Jr probably does when he’s on the set for a Marvel Film, we said we were going to get coffee and breakfast and asked them to please give us a ring when they were ready for us. Only, unlike RDJ, we actually had to pay for our coffee and breakfast.

Around 9am we got back to the “set” and met the producers, our director, and the very intimidating director of photography. We also met the. man who designed and made the body we were going to pretend to be operating on for the day, a body that was an eerily accurate and anatomically correct replica I might add.

We got into our costumes. I say that as if this was a special moment but what it actually entailed was putting on scrub suits and caps, the same thing we do day in and day out for work. The other extras (production managers who got roped into playing some of the roles because they didn’t have the budget as yet for real actors) got a huge kick out of it though, and they were really chuffed at the thought of being part of the surgical team for the day. It came as no surprise to me when they admitted to being huge fans of Grey’s Anatomy.

Thank you Shonda Rhimes for single-handedly making our profession more attractive than it probably is.

We didn’t get a script so my friend and I sort of had to make things up as we went along. He had the starring role because I volunteered to be the nurse, so he ended up playing the surgeon. They took lots of shots of him walking in corridors, gazing at the horizon and scrubbing up. I spent a lot of time tweeting and facebooking the entire experience while I waited for my five minutes of screen time.

I imagined that was how Jeremy ‘Hawkeye’ Renner probably felt on the set of the Avengers movies, constantly waiting for them to finish capturing yet another shot of Captain America and his shield. Lol.

I have to say, from watching behind-the-scenes footage and documentaries, I already had the vague impression of the amount of hard work that goes into making any kind of tv episode or feature length film. I mean, the Game of Thrones crew subjected themselves to doing 55 night shifts just to give us the Battle of Winterfell.

Talk about dedication. I’ve done night shifts and at the end of three nights you almost start to lose your sense of self. I really could not imagine doing 55 of them. I don’t care if I get to work with Jon Snow or dragons, night shifts are brutal.

The cameramen, the grips, the lighting director and all the rest of the people who are basically in charge of making the actors look good really are the unsung heroes of the film industry. I’ve seen a small sliver of the precision and attention to detail that goes into making these things and I was very impressed. A bit annoyed that they were nitpicking over each and every shot so much that we overran by about an hour, but impressed nonetheless.

Every shot had to be perfect and stylised. It took about ten takes just to shoot a sequence of Russel washing his hands, and another ten of me dropping a scalpel into a kidney dish. They were using lingo that I didn’t really understand, talking about how the shot needs to be sharp and the camera needs to be slanted and they needed more than a thousand frames – they might as well have been talking Latin for all I knew.

There was also a bit of tension and drama. Artistic people have an artistic temperament. Also, put a bunch of perfectionists in the room and you will inevitably end up with an argument or two, but its the kind of professional bickering that leads to something productive.

I didn’t realise how drained I was until the director finally said “Cut!” on that lost shot and I realised we were done for the day. I wasn’t even really acting, just miming something I did and have done for so long now that I can probably do it in my sleep. Can you imagine having to shoot an emotional scene, (or a love scene! lol) over and over again because the lighting was wrong or the director didn’t get the angle he wanted? I don’t know how actors do it.

We packed up, said our goodbyes to the crew, and made our way to Leicester Square and ended our short-lived stint in the entertainment industry over Chinese food. We looked back on the day and laughed over the experience. It was a glimpse into a world that is beyond our reach, a taste of what life would have been like if we’d been blessed with the self-confidence and talent of a movie star.

We came to the conclusion that there was a reason why we weren’t Hollywood stars, and we had better stick to our day jobs.

So, that’s a wrap on Angela the actress, folks. Thank you BBC for the experience and good luck on the documentary!

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Medical, Nursing

Goodbye, Teacher

My whole life, I have always wanted to become a teacher.

When I was younger, I used to help my brother and sister with their schoolwork, in addition to doing my own. I was the go-to person at school for any classmate who would need extra support or tutoring on any subject.

In addition, just for kicks, my uncles would allot an hour each day for me to help my brother learn to read. For some reason we chose to pick up a hardbound edition of Disney’s Pocahontas, which, in hindsight, may not have been the most appropriate choice for encouraging an 8-year-old boy to read.

I went into Nursing because it was my best shot to get out of the country and try and make a better life for myself abroad. Had I been given a choice, and if the financial rewards were taken out of the equation, I probably would have become a History or English teacher or something.

Anyway, its true what they say that life always has a way of sorting itself out. And all you have to do is not get in the way of it while it does. I graduated Nursing and ended up becoming a Clinical Instructors in my alma mater for two years anyway.

I left that post after two years because I had an opportunity to work abroad as a theatre nurse. But after two years of doing that, I then applied for an education post in my trust and here I’ve been ever since.

This week, I lost a person who started out as a mentor and eventually became a colleague and friend. We both worked together as Clinical Instructors in Velez College, and her passing has made me reflect on what it means to be a good teacher, and what it means to be a good person.

I don’t think both are synonymous with each other, but I also think that they’re not mutually exclusive. Being a good person makes you a better teacher, and learning to be a good teacher will help you learn to become a better person.

There are so many qualities that you need to become a teacher that people don’t think about. There’s the easily definable and measurable qualities like time management and organisational skills, writing skills, the ability to speak eloquently and clearly. You also need a really good grasp of what it is you’re meant to be teaching, be subject matter experts so to speak.

But there are the qualities that are more difficult to quantify, the ones beneath the surface that people don’t always see.

Being a teacher takes a lot of patience. There are moments when I lose the will to live when I have to repeat something over and over again because someone just doesn’t get it. But when you manage to get through even one person who’s been struggling for so long, it feels like more of an achievement than when you teach a class of twenty intelligent people.

Being a teacher requires a lot of compassion. We all learn in different ways, some struggle more than others. I have always felt an affinity for those who need more support than the rest of their peers, for those who feel like they’ll always be a failure no matter what they do. As a teacher, I want them to believe in themselves because, even when I’ve hated my students, I’ve always believed in their potential.

Students and learners just need a little push, for someone to tell them to keep going no matter how many times they have to go to the dean’s office to submit a promissory letter because they’ve once again managed to acquire only the bare minimum grade required to pass a subject. It doesn’t matter. What matters is they did pass.

They need someone who won’t give up on them even when they’ve given up on themselves. I don’t know whether I’ve achieved this or not in the course of my career, but its something that I will continue to aim to do as an educator.

Being  teacher requires courage. I don’t know about my colleagues, but I always feel like I’m putting so much of myself on display whenever I have to get up in front of a class or group of people to present something. I feel intensely vulnerable, and I feel like everyone’s cataloguing all my faults and waiting for me to slip up so they can pounce and take advantage of my moment of weakness.

It takes strength and bravery to put yourself out there, and we do it each and every time because we believe in the payoff. We believe that its worth it. 

This week, our hospital is trying to introduce a new system of care planning as part of our new electronic health records system. The NANDA, or nursing diagnoses, is something that we’ve always taught and drilled into our Velez College students from the time they first step into the wards and care for patients. We have them do it every time they’re on shift; they do an extensive one at the beginning of the month as part of their OPTs and again at the end of the month when they have to do a case study.

I am incredibly pleased that the students we’ve taught as a faculty, who are now working in London, will finally be able to apply their training to the care of actual patients (I don’t know if THEY’RE pleased, because most of them hated the NANDA, but I am! lol).

Moreover, I feel so chuffed that something we implemented as part of their curriculum will now actually give them an advantage leading up to the planned change, and they will be able to support their colleagues who may not be as familiar with the system, in the same way that we supported them when they were students.

It is the best sort of validation for a teacher when she sees the actual fruit of her labours, to realise that she’s helped to equip her students with the tools they need to be globally competitive in the nursing field, and to see students that she’s personally taught become great and responsible nurses.

Ma’am Mira, you are everything that is good in a Velezian, and you exemplify some of the best values that the college has always taught us. I can only hope to be as brave and courageous as you have been when life has knocked you on your feet, and I can only pray to have your optimism and faith in difficult times, and even all the way through to the end.

Rest in peace, we will miss you very much, and this blog is for you.