Lisa Clarke: lead nurse for children’s allergy, Nottingham children’s hospital, QMC

There are few people who will one day look back at 2020 and not see it changed them in some way. We wanted to find out what lockdown (the first one) was like for a variety of the population, and how they have emerged as different people. One phrase that was said in nearly every interview was “the new normal”. That means many things to many people, as we discovered:

“When it hit the guidelines were changing constantly, so we knew things were moving fast and we’d soon be having to change things majorly. I usually see inpatients and outpatients throughout the day, but that all stopped. The wards became eerily empty, and even A+E fell quiet. Yet you knew there was a crisis, and that was painful, not being able to deal with it when your response is always to care and help.

“At home, our daughter went to live with her boyfriend’s family, as there is a real Romeo and Juliet thing going off there – plus, she’s asthmatic, so I didn’t want to put her at risk. It was terrifying at first when people didn’t know much about the virus and didn’t know what our chances are with it. I’d remove and bag my uniform straight after a shift,  and shower before hugging my boyfriend – I still do.

“The whole veneration of NHS staff was actually quite scary. We were being treated as if we were going to war, not just going to work. It felt like we were being set up for martyrdom. That said, cycling home one evening when people came out to clap for carers was quite amazing: I felt like I was winning the Tour De France as I passed down the street.

“I worked on mask-testing and would have to spend hours standing up. I’m fit – I like to run marathons – but sciatica started to set in, and for eight weeks I’d put up with it despite the intense pain as I was so deeply into work. It’s since been under treatment. I also trained to work on A+E, which was an eye-opener. Non-Covid admissions were right down, but it felt good to train in readiness.

“I would advise anyone planning things to do so with caution: be prepared for anything as this is far from over.”

“My colleagues and the hospital trust were amazing: there was absolute dedication. They would bend over backwards to ensure very difficult situations – family not being able to see dying relatives, for instance – were looked after on a personal level and everything done to help.

“As the summer wore on, and cases fell fast, I felt less anxious about the situation, though I still did everything to avoid infection. Last week though, my daughter’s boyfriend developed symptoms, and we recently found he is positive. We’ve had to subsequently go into lockdown and isolation again, and I’m prepared for the worst. I can do some of my job from home, so will have to.

“I am worried about Winter, as flu cases and other respiratory illnesses start to return to complicate things. I would advise anyone planning things to do so with caution: be prepared for anything as this is far from over. I’ve booked time off for Christmas. Will I take it? Right now, I have no idea.”

MT

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