Covid Frontline

Nigel Beeton (pictured below in his PPE) worked in the Radiology department in a hospital in the East of England. During the coronavirus crisis, he was writing a weekly diary of his life at the hospital. This has now concluded.

Weekend 29th May

You may be wondering about the result of my coronavirus test (see entry 22nd May). Well, I was tested last Wednesday, and on Bank Holiday Monday a lady rang me up, confirmed my details, and said “Well, I am sorry to have to inform you…” (by this time my heart was at a standstill) “… that your test was invalid!”

So I had to go back again and have a swab hoover around the inside of my sinuses, but now it’s Thursday evening, and I still haven’t heard, and it’s time to write my blog.

It doesn’t matter much now, anyway, because I retired today. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful, and so we were able to have a socially distanced gathering in a courtyard, though only a tenth of the people were there that I’d have liked to be there. But instead I did a tour of the hospital and saw a lot of my colleagues, and words and gestures had to stand in for hugs and handshakes, but it was all very nice, anyway. Then I took Carol my wife out for a meal. OK, it was only in the hospital canteen but that’s all there is at the moment! As I got home this evening the last of the eight o’clock claps was taking place, strange that the last one is on my retirement day.

My retirement gift was a lovely globe… I’ve always wanted a globe, I love just gazing at all the exotic places that I’ve never been able to visit and now I still can’t, despite being retired!  But I can still gaze at them on a globe.

My colleague who tested positive made a speedy recovery and is back at work already. Three others tested positive but they are all right as ninepence. What a strange, capricious thing this coronavirus is! Some patients suffer a long, drawn out, suffocating death while other people barely know that they’ve had it. I expect that the boffins understand this but I’m not sure that I do.

What I do understand is how glad and thankful I am that I’ve made it to retirement and that all my staff so far are safe and well. I take my leave of the Covid frontline now. I have some holiday, during which I will not be travelling along the Danube on a river cruise as planned, but we might sit in the caravan on the drive for a few days anyway. Thank you all for following my little story and for your messages of support.

It’s not over yet, of course, and may not be for months, so do keep vigilant and look after yourselves. But from me, for now, thank you, and good-bye.


Weekend 22nd May 2020

I had another new experience today – my first (and hopefully my only) coronavirus test.

I had to sit in a little room about the size of a toilet cubicle, and a very cheery nurse (who I know very well from her normal job when she isn’t testing) came in dressed in PPE and stuck a swab up each nostril. I think the word is ‘uncomfortable’ rather than painful – don’t let me put you off being tested if you need a test – and it was all over in a trice.

Now I’ve got you all worried that I’m suffering from the virus. Fear not, I am as fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog, but sadly one of my colleagues from CT has now tested positive and I was working quite closely with her last week, so they thought I and a few others should get the test to be on the safe side.

I have to be thankful to have got through to the second half of May with 237 staff, a significant proportion of whom in direct contact with the public and with coronavirus sufferers, and not to have had a single one of them infected with the virus. We hope and pray that she will make a complete recovery, at the last bulletin she was still reasonably well. I am, as you all by now know, immensely proud of these wonderful people who get up each morning knowing the risks, but still they come.  I also hope that my own test is negative, not just for the usual reasons but because it would compel me to self-isolate, and I have a very good reason to want to be in the hospital next week.

PPEThat reason is because next Thursday marks the end of a career in full-time radiography which began on 13th September 1978 when a scared young 18 year old entered the Luton and Dunstable Hospital in Bedfordshire to commence my training. Nearly 42 years later, I am retiring. Things are not quite the way I’d planned – but by the time the virus struck it was too late to change the actual dates because my replacements (yes, two!) have been appointed.

A lot of people quite understandably are fearful of hospitals and dislike them. Well, the buildings are rarely pretty and the experiences to be had therein (such as having your nose swabbed) are frequently those we can do without, no matter how hard the staff try to make them pleasant. But when you work in hospitals, believe me, they really get into your blood.

The whole atmosphere of a hospital as a workplace is, and always has been, uniquely wonderful. Especially when, as recently, the chips have been down, that sense of camaraderie is one that I would miss. So, I’ll be back later in June for a couple of days a week, but by then the responsibility for the safety of all those patients and staff will have passed on to other shoulders, and I shall just be a part time worker bee!

That, of course depends on the pandemic not worsening again, and upon the staff staying well, otherwise it’ll be back to the PPE for me!


Weekend 15th May, 2020

You can say what you like about the coronavirus, it has certainly brought some colour into our lives! This morning I encountered one of my colleagues. Starting from the top, she was wearing a bright yellow visor, a pale blue regulation issue surgical mask, bright pink scrubs and bright orange clogs. She looked like one of those rainbows that we now see all over the place!

I can assure you that her bright pinks scrubs did not come through the NHS supply chain! No indeed, those scrubs were put together and stitched by a member of the public.

Scrubs, for those of you not addicted to Holby City, are pyjama-like outfits of trousers and top which do nothing for your figure (mine’s a hopeless cause anyway) but which are cool to wear and easy to keep clean. The idea is that you can change out of your day clothes and into scrubs and vice versa so you are not carrying bugs into or out of clinical areas. They were originally worn in the operating theatre environment, hence the term associated with ‘scrubbing up’ for theatre. Their use had become considerably more widespread but the advent of the requirements for PPE in the covid situation put enormous pressure on demand for scrubs, and our existing stocks quickly ran out. It was the same story across the NHS.

But the public have responded magnificently. Carol, my wife, sews, and in fact she has made us both masks that we can wear when out and about (but not at work). It took her a while, and of course she’s at work nursing so doesn’t have the time to make scrubs, but I would think that a set of scrubs must take several hours to make.

The hospital has put one of those wire cages on wheels in the front entrance so that donors can put their home-made scrubs into it. There’s a poster on it thanking contributors most effusively but otherwise it’s just a bare wire cage.  So these paragons of home sewing, after all these hours of cutting, stitching, over-locking and elastoplasting the occasional cut finger, just drive up to the hospital and deposit the fruits of their labours into a wire cage.

I think that is true charity. No formal thanks, no prize for producing the most scrubs, no smiling grip and grin photos in the local paper (grip and grins are out for the duration anyway). Just the simple satisfaction of knowing that you are making a real difference to the working lives of staff facing the greatest challenge of their health service careers. (It’s certainly been the greatest challenge of mine, and if any twenty-somethings setting out on their careers will have to face worse, then I tremble at the thought.)

If you, or someone you know, has been sewing scrubs, then on behalf of all of us, may I say:
Thank You!

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Friday 8th May 2020

I fear I may have spoken a little bit too soon last week. The quiet day was a one-off and we’ve been back in full flight since then. The official line is that East Anglia is a little behind the national curve, and students of the graphs shown at the daily briefings will be aware that East Anglian cases are still rising slowly.

But there is no longer that dreadful feeling that we are about to become overwhelmed. In fact, there is that relieved feeling that we prepared for the worst and that we have coped. Staff are still tired, the relentless need to carry out familiar tasks wearing cumbersome and uncomfortable PPE is, to say the least, wearying; but nevertheless, we now hear laughter amongst the sighs, and see smiles amidst the tears.

There are still positive signs. On Monday (4th) nobody passed away in the hospital as a direct result of a covid infection. Ours was one of two hospitals in the region to report no deaths, and another significant milestone is passed. The media have been using deaths as a kind of measurement of the severity of the crisis. It is as good a yardstick as any, I’m sure, but the use of words like ‘yardstick’ or ‘measurement’ to describe the numbers of families torn apart by this virus feels faintly inappropriate. But a day when no more mourning has been caused does seem to justify rejoicing.

I’ve remarked before about the effects of the virus being exacerbated by the enforced separation; it is not a nice way to lose loved ones. The desire to sit by someone we love, to speak gentle words to them and to hold their hand as they slip away is a very deep one. My wonderful father died in 2017, long before Covid-19. I was reading the opening phrases of John chapter 14 to him at the very moment that his breathing stopped.  That I was able to do so was a great comfort, at least to us, and I am bitterly conscious that this comfort has been denied to so many over the past few miserable weeks.

If the disease is abating, let us thank God for it, and let us therefore pray that it is doing so for good, and will not return in second or third waves as previous epidemics have done. Then we can consign our deathly ‘yardstick’ to the pages of history.

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Friday 1st May 2020

Is it too early to start using the past tense with regard to Covid-19?

Well, yes, of course it is. To abuse Winston Churchill’s quote, this certainly is not the end, but it just might be the ‘end of the beginning’. At our hospital, we are down to just five patients remaining in intensive care, for which I (and many others) thank the Lord.

I have a feeling that the turning point was Wednesday (22nd). Up to then I seemed to have my visor on as much as off, assisting my staff, mainly in CT. Then, on Thursday, they didn’t call me at all! Friday was a bit busier, but today (Sunday) the feeling that things are calming down is becoming more widespread.

I write with some trepidation, for even as a Christian I’m superstitious about using the ‘Q’ word. (‘Quiet’. NEVER use that word in the presence of a working health professional!)

 I apologise, Gentle Reader, for my  darker blogs of a week or two ago,   when I was raging at idiots for breaking   the lockdown. Indeed, I was tired, and I   can now share that I had fallen victim   not to the virus but to virus, when an   agonizing rash spread across the right   side of my body.

  My GP asked me (on the phone) if I   had been tired and run down. My   slightly abrupt reply of ‘haven’t we all?’ got a grunt of assent before she diagnosed me with an attack of the shingles. But now I find it feels less as though I’ve lost a fight with an aggrieved stallion and my own mood is lifting along with many of my colleagues, so I find myself able to give thanks that so many did observe the lockdown, and now we begin to see the benefits.

Sometimes over the past few years the NHS has felt like a bit of a public whipping boy, and indeed sometimes we have let people down, and if you are one of those people I am genuinely very sorry; but please don’t ever think we do not care. We do. We get up in the morning in the hope of doing good, prepared to do daily battle with the forces that combine to do harm to the populations we serve. The Coronavirus is but one of those enemies, if you are concerned that any of the others have you in its grip, heart disease, cancer, anything, then do seek help; we in the NHS will do our best to help you and to protect you from any other kind of harm.

But suddenly we in the NHS are getting thanked. For forty years I have plodded towards various hospitals at various odd times of day or night, and never once has anybody stopped me and said ‘thank you’. Nor would I have expected it (they do pay me!) but that is exactly what happened to me on Monday morning. I was just getting onto the site when a lady who I have never met asked me if I worked at the hospital. I replied in the affirmative, wondering what was coming. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you so much, all of you.”

Well, thank you, ma’am. I cannot tell you how much the appreciation and support of the general public has meant to us all. The rainbows in the windows, the ‘I love the NHS’ slogans appearing everywhere; the clapping on Thursday evenings. And let us pray that, standing together as we have done, perhaps we are all beginning to turn the corner.


                                                Schools out too soon for summer

                                 By Tim Yearsley (of London Institute for Contemporary Christianity
                                                     who considers the emptiness many students feel). 

Any other year, unexpected freedom from end-of-term lectures and exam timetables would surely be cause for celebration. But this year, many students’ terms have ended with a tremendous anti-climax.

Spare a thought for those who, whether they’re sixth-formers or prospective grads, will have no summer term, no celebration party, no opportunity to hug their friends goodbye. Many had to leave their student houses and head home suddenly, now figuring out how to complete their degrees from a distance. It wasn’t meant to be like this. And there’s nothing they can do about it, except sit in the disappointment.

The temptation is to run from or deny this reality: be it watching all of TIGER KING in a weekend or bulldozing our emotions with ‘God’s in charge’ mantras. But the gospel shows us and the students we know a better way. Rather than a God who shows us how to escape disappointment, Christians believe in a God who shows up IN our disappointment.Tired boy

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews captures this fact, in pointing out that Jesus is not ‘unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses’ (4:15). Jesus dealt with disappointment too – we see it in His response to His townsfolk’s lack of faith, and His closest friends falling asleep when He needed them most.

If disappointment was an experience for Jesus, we can be sure it will be an experience for those who follow Him. Recognising there is no quick fix, on-demand, life-hack solution might be a way to help the students we love to come to terms with their disappointment.

To do so might even be the first step towards a more profound truth: Christians do not believe that we face disappointment alone. He is IMMANUEL – God with us. And as we discover that reality, our disappointment might not only be validated, it might be transformed.

Knowing Jesus and trusting Him is a hope that ‘does not disappoint us’ (Romans 5:5). Because in God’s story, disappointment – whether a missed goodbye or a Saviour on a cross – is only momentary. The truth is that He’s putting this not-as-it-should-be world back together, as His kingdom comes, day by day. This is the hope of the gospel. And that kind of hope is good news for all of us, including students