Fragrance is a huge passion of mine and I spend as much time as I can sitting at my perfume organ, creating the fragrances that eventually become part of the Rook Perfumes collection. Relatively speaking though, perfumery is a new facet of my life and what occupies me the most is my work as an emergency doctor.
I studied medicine at University College London and graduated in 2010. I spent most of my career working in acute and geriatric medicine but eventually the West End came calling and I decided I wanted to go back to my passion in the arts. I switched to emergency medicine, the shift patterns giving me more flexibility to work at the hospital in the day time and then jump on a train to Covent Garden to put on my wig and costume, ready for curtain up at 1930pm in shows such as Sunset Boulevard at the English National Opera and School of Rock at, the now, Gillian Lynne theatre. In fact when I first heard about the incoming pandemic, I was on a coffee break for a show I was rehearsing at the London Palladium.
Fast forward a year. Oh how things have changed. The theatres closed, I went back to almost full-time medicine and the donning of PPE which was once a novelty, has become a uniform I can get in to as fast as Spiderman can his lycras.
Each of the three waves had its own character. The first wave was fairly scary. We saw the images of medical staff in China and then Europe falling apart with hospitals struggling to hold themselves up. We even had letters of warning from Italy, telling us "to prepare" for something unprecedented. I remember an intensive care consultant coming down to the emergency department and casually telling us that this would be the hardest experience any of us we would have in our medical careers. That sent shivers down my spine.
The first wave though was propped up by morale. For the first time ever (or at least it seemed), it felt like people, the government, even my mum, suddenly had some insight at how busy the hospital environment is and how much responsibility sits on the shoulders of NHS staff. People forget that a large proportion of our staff have just graduated and are as young as 24 - these 24 year olds are ill prepared to cope emotionally with these sorts of challenges. It is time that allows young doctors to develop a thick enough skin to not become overwhelmed by their daily challenges and to also maintain a level of empathy that lets our patients know, we too are only human. This was a challenge these young doctors never expected to face so soon in their career. The clapping, the messages of good will, the rainbows in windows were all cues that made us feel appreciated and brought us closer together as a team. However, we too had families that we couldn't see, we too had families we were worried would succumb to a virus that we watched killing our patients day after day. That was tough.
The second and third waves were similar to each other but quite different to the first. We had become well seasoned at the steps for managing COVID (yes we by now had moved forward from the term "coronavirus") - which were very few. All we can do is provide increasing amounts of oxygen, steroids, antibiotics and if this doesn't work the options were intubation and ventilation or sadly discussions around end of life care. What was not present during the second and third waves was the morale I described above. The country was exhausted, mental health was starting to be impacted and we as doctors felt exactly the same. I wanted to see my family and friends. I wanted to do the things that kept my mental health sound enough to face each day at work. That just wasn't possible.
That being said, I, like all of my colleagues, feel so grateful to have had a job. To have had somewhere to go each morning at a time the country was locked down. Now, approximately a year on, I do see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the last month I have seen a number of COVID cases I can count on one hand. We are back to seeing the patients that desperately needed our care but were too afraid to come to hospital to get it. We are back to having a little more time to give patients the love and care that they need, particularly in the elderly population. I feel honoured to have worked for the NHS over the last year and to be part of a team that does its best (within a lot of bureaucratic constraints) to give good care.
I want to finish by sending my sympathies to anyone who has suffered from COVID or lost a loved one to it. I have to say it has been nice to put down in words an experience which has had a huge impact on my life.