I am due to start a set of weekend nights as a registrar in surgery. There’s lots of panic in the media and I can expect some stress at work. What I hadn’t expected was stress at home.
My wife wakes me an hour before I need to get up, struggling to breathe and get words out. My panic sets in, she is 27 weeks pregnant with our second child and asthmatic and this is already looking like it is going to be a bad night.
I sit her down, assess her and I think she needs medical attention. I, however, can’t be objective in this setting so I phone a friend who agrees with me. Immediately, the wheels of motion start. I inform the consultant and he agrees and says they will cover the night shift somehow. The guilt sets in for me, I need to be at home with wife and young daughter, but I don’t want to dump lots of stress on my colleagues. I have never yet failed to turn up to an on call and it just feels wrong.
I ring 111 and they agree, given the situation, she needs to speak to a clinician. I am advised to ring back and am put through to another section. I am then informed that we will be rung back by the next available clinician. It’s now 8pm and I am due to be starting my night shift at work.
Then begins the longest night shift of my life. I have managed to settle my wife as best as I can with her spacer and inhaler. She is stable but still wheezing, still coughing but thankfully no temperature. I make a mental decision that if she shows any signs of worsening, I need to take her to the emergency department. I spend the rest of the night listening to her breathing and waiting for a call.
At 4am she gets a text saying she is in a queue to speak to a clinician. At 8am we finally get our call back (12 hours later). The GP calling is himself in isolation, he believes this is unlikely to be coronavirus but can’t say for sure given the fact we can’t get tested. He prescribes a new inhaler, new spacer and steroids for five days. A close friend picks these up as well as some flowers for my wife.
I convince my wife to sleep and deal with the flurry of messages from my colleagues asking after her and trying to arrange cover for this night shift. Further guilt sets in. I am OK. I could go in but owing to her symptoms I may have contracted the virus. I sort the house and my daughter out and find I am developing a cough, dry throat and some aches. Surely these are just owing to tiredness?
Work has found cover for the rest of my nights and I can breathe easier. My symptoms get worse and I am almost happy as this means I don’t have to isolate for 14 days. I can go back in after seven (providing I recover). I can start pulling my weight and helping my colleagues.
My wife is recovering, her wheeze and cough have improved and she looks better. I have gotten no worse and still have the underlying guilt of not going to work. I can’t shift this nor think I will ever be able to.
Monday morning and I was due to be post-nights so I feel better about not being at work. The messages over the weekend and the vast amount already today show me how ill-prepared we are and how much is unknown. Operations have been cancelled, clinics are now telephone-only. New advice is coming in daily and with it more questions are raised.
Today is my wife’s birthday. I have not organised a thing as I thought I would have time beforehand. Isolation is hitting hard. I manage to find a place that is delivering cakes and then thoroughly disinfect everything when it arrives. We have been trying to keep things normal for my daughter but every time we video call family she gets upset and doesn’t understand why they aren’t with us. Quarantine is starting to hit hard.
Another day in quarantine. My symptoms have almost gone, my wife is on the mend. I should be at work! I cannot shake the feeling that I need to be at work, it may not be the most sensible thing, but I can do more good there than I can at home, where I am under everyone’s feet and not settled. My wife convinces me to calm down and reminds me I would still be post nights.
Quarantine is biting hard. I would normally have been outside but am now restricted to the garden to get whatever fresh air I can. My wife is still wheezy but is on the mend. She has got her letter from the Government stating she is at high risk and needs to isolate for 12 weeks.
I don’t know how she will manage, I have struggled for a few days and am itching to get back to work and do my bit. The guilt, anxiety and powerlessness associated with the last seven days have been weighing me down. I know this is just the start and we as a group of clinicians have a long way to go but I can’t help feeling that if we continue to support each other we can get through this.
Jaideep Singh Rait is an ST5 in surgery with the Kent, Surrey and Sussex deanery. His period of isolation was last month, and he has since returned to work.