What It's Like Being A Doctor At The Sharp End Of A Global Pandemic

The hardest thing I ever did as an intensive care doctor was knocking on a door. Chris died just days after blowing out the candles on his 18th birthday cake. He was the reason I chose to work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Healthcare workers often talk about those they 'carry': patients or families that stay with us over the course of a career. In a decade’s time, I’ll remember not only knocking on that door but also pressing the rubber keys on a phone. I chose intensive care as a medical speciality because I wanted to think as well as to act. Communication ishealthcare’s most valuable and yet most dangerous procedure, verbal dexterity mattering much more than manual. Instead, we break bad news through the twisted cord of a telephone where the power of silence can be mistaken for a hang-up. We move heaven and earth to let families spend time with loved ones who are dying. I know from personal experience that even the sound of your own ringtone on a television program can induce panic when hanging on for news of a loved one who is unwell. “What if it’s the hospital?” So now I try to start my phone calls to families with, “Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad news call”. So, too, the nurses, thephysiotherapists, the receptionists who file the death certificates, the cleaners who clean the empty beds. So many others in society must pray for such things, as the food banks are harvested and the bankaccounts turn crimson. How does it feel to work in intensive care during a deadly global viral pandemic? You start parenthood feeling knackered after weeks ofsleepless nights. Your good intentions to paint the nursery and have your bags packed ready slip by. You change your flat to better care for them, you get systems in place, you find others you can rely on. We have a wellbeing programme threaded through the organisation that tells us that it is OK to not be OK. We have been given permission to worry, to talk, to breathe out as well as in. That gives us the permission toalso bounce back, to stay well and continue to be able to protect, to watch over the next patient with COVID or cancer or heart disease. The rainbows painted by children I see on the walls as I leave the ICU turn COVID grey into a hopeful green. The clapping I hear through my car window as I drive into yet another night shift drowns out the sound of another news report. Perhaps think about donating the cost of that coffee you can’t buy, or that night out you missed, to our campaign to support the whole of the ICU. His book “Critical: Stories From the Front Line of Intensive Care Medicine” is out now in paperback. Subscribe to Esquire now for a hit of style, fitness, culture and advice from the experts