COVID-19: Our world under the microscope

by Alexandra Adams

Today I am uncertain. I am uncertain as to who I am writing as – a medical student, a young disabled person fighting against stereotype and stigma, a patient, or just another, very ordinary, passer-by.  I really don’t know.

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 24 March 2020

The first time I focused my attention on coronavirus was not when it swept through Wuhan, but when it reached – and by this point, suffocated resources and people, by the thousands – Italy.

I saw images of healthcare staff dressed in bubbles of spacesuits, pacing between each patient of a modern, highly specialised intensive care unit.

I knew that place, I thought. I know them. Back in the summer of 2018, I lay there, in that very same place, as a patient, on life support for three weeks, following a horrific bout of sepsis and respiratory failure. The healthcare staff were incredible. They were calm, collected, and gently guided my family through the highs and lows of my ordeal, and later, recovery. 

A good friend of my parents, a highly respected doctor at that same Italian hospital, sent us a message a week or two ago. I had not given much thought to the crisis unfolding over there. After all, it was far from home here, and it would be highly unlikely that it would reach us. Surely.

'The feared prediction of a rapid growth in the number of seriously infected people has occurred in time and is a crisis for hospitals. I really hope that for a fortunate clemency of destiny, the UK will remain happily isolated … but it would be good to remain fearful,' it read.

Maybe fear was to be a good thing because now we are here. It, is here. And nobody can quite justify this strangely calm, yet quietly terrifying, dimension we find ourselves so abruptly locked into.  

I can’t visit my 88-year-old papa, I can’t even see my own parents. I am working, studying, mostly on the so-called ‘front line’, and yet I, as a young 26-year-old, have a history of multiple intensive care unit admissions, owing to a respiratory condition. Equally, I can’t afford to ‘join in’ on this virus.  

They often say we don’t believe it, until we see it. Only then can something become a truth. The buzz of the hospital concourse has now died down to a hum, and my friends, colleagues, the healthcare staff, of our hospital, dot quickly away in their recycled overalls, thermometers in hand to check for walking fevers en masse, white face masks which hide each other’s solemn expressions. I, among many other medical students nationwide, tap into databases and forms, expressing our availability to volunteer, taking on childcare duties for our fellow colleagues, while our medical schools postpone and close down at the height of this outbreak.  

I’m not sure when I will next sit at the table to eat a Sunday roast with my grandparents, and I hope to high Heaven that my papa is spared from even the ‘simple’ sore throat. Will I still have the same number of family members sat round that same table at the end of this even? I could be away from my family for months, as I learn to enjoy the basic surroundings of a single, self-isolated room. I have no knowing of when I, and my friends, can return to the front line to help our colleagues and people we too call our patients.  

I don’t even know what it means for myself, coming through this. If I were to catch it, if, will it be mild, or will it be more? Nobody knows. But what I do know is that, while every course and path each coronavirus takes in each of us will be different; some proving more vulnerable than others, each and every face behind those white, clinical face masks are all the same because we are all human, all exposed, and all journeying through COVID-19 together. This, is what the world looks look under the microscope. And no coronavirus will ever destroy that.  

Stay safe all x

This blog is an edited version of the piece Covid 19: Our world under the microscope by medical student at Cardiff University Alexandra Adams.