A 'flu-like illness': one on year since COVID-19 struck

One year of COVID-19: Belfast GP Ursula Brennan reflects on one year on the pandemic front line 

Location: Northern Ireland
Last reviewed: 22 March 2021
36369 ursulla brennan

What did you first think when you heard about covid?

Certainly I had concerns regarding planning, communication and PPE provision. I remember learning about COVID at a meeting in the Public Health Agency in January 2020. It was an ‘any other business’ comment about a virus in causing a flu-like illness emerging in Wuhan, which I’d never heard of, in China. I suppose naively we all thought that then that this wasn’t going to cause any difficulties for us living in Northern Ireland because Wuhan was so very far away. How naïve we all were. I do remember that my response to the conversation was 'I do hope we have enough PPE?' and had that been considered.

What was the low point of the pandemic for you?

There have been a number of low points. The fear for my family, my husband, our two children, and how we would adapt to what was the new way of living. The uncertainty of how long that would last for. The practical implications of home schooling, school closures. The worry of how we would manage our day-to-day work as GPs, for the GP community, the fear for how our patients would be looked after. Managing change has been exhausting and overwhelming.

Were there any positive points?

For me the positive points of COVID have been what we have collectively achieved. We are a year down the line from living with COVID and we have managed to continue with care, albeit in a different way. Collectively through my work in the COVID centre we have assessed 10,000 patients whilst also keeping our general practice surgeries open.

The knowledge that collectively we have achieved something extraordinary over the last year. Caring for patients, collaborating with others. Really working within your vocational calling to be a doctor.

How has your life changed – personally and professionally?

Personally I have found it hard with the working from home and home schooling which has been tough at times. As a family my husband and I have been very grateful for our friends and family who have supported from a distance. Food parcels on the door step!

The texts, emails and zoom calls when meeting together has not been possible.

As a family like so many others we have had so much change to adapt to. I am so grateful to have a family.

Did you learn anything about yourself because of this?

I have learned that I have the support of so many amazing colleagues. I have additionally made life long friendships with many colleagues who I didn’t know this time last year. I have additionally developed a renewed love and respect for our NHS of which I am part. That collectively we can achieve much more together.

What one thing (or bit of advice?) would you tell / give yourself back at the start of the pandemic?

Pace yourself. Switch the phone off more, walk more. Hug family and friends tightly and as often as possible.