HEALTH MATTERS: Recognising the contribution of staff one year on from the pandemic 

This month represents one year since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. To mark the anniversary, we have teamed up with Glasgow Live to shine a light on the personal stories and accounts of some of the frontline staff working in our health service.  

You can read all of the profiles on the Glasgow Live website and we’ll also share some each week here, starting with  Dr Geeshath Jayasekera, pictured.

Geesh, 35, Southside, Respiratory Registrar Doctor and Chief Resident for Medicine at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

“What gets you through when it’s tough, is a combination of the people around you who are working equally as hard – the nursing staff, doctors, cleaners, porters – every healthcare professional who works here is giving it their very best during every shift that they work – you have an obligation to do the best for the people around you by working together and supporting each other, but on other side of that, is a patient and a family, who for them, that patient is the most important person in their world. Knowing that and doing anything less than your best is not an option. As well as our colleagues, those are the people we don’t want to let down, that is what we are here for.

“I knew that I wanted to be a doctor in my mid-teens, initially because of an affection towards science, but when I started working as a doctor, my motivation became an affection towards people and helping them.

“I’m a registrar junior doctor and I’ll qualify as a consultant in about two years. I’ve worked in respiratory medicine for a number of years, I was always interested in it, but ultimately chose this speciality after being inspired by the people I was working alongside.

“Respiratory medicine involves working with patients who have serious conditions like COPD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and patients with difficult respiratory infections, among other things. Although Covid affects various areas of the body, and treating it involves a variety of specialist medical teams throughout the hospital, it is predominantly a respiratory illness, so for our department during the pandemic, there has had to be more focus on Covid management on the ward and in critical care units on top of our intense usual workload.

“As one of the Chief Residents for Medicine, I’m also a representative for all junior doctors in the hospital from their Foundation year to higher registrar level.

“Junior doctors have worked significantly hard during the coronavirus pandemic. Some of them are in their Foundation year straight out of university with minimal previous experience in similar situations and have come to work immediately in very challenging environments, I really appreciate how difficult that must have been for them. There’s also staff on leave due to illness or having to isolate and junior doctors have stepped up to cover those gaps continuing to work in those challenging situations looking after sick patients, updating family members and having very difficult conversations about death and prognosis with patients and their families, even at a very junior level. Some of these conversations have had to be done over the phone which again is a new experience, but they all came together and worked very hard at the most difficult time. I’m proud of being a junior doctor working through the pandemic. I’m very proud of all of the junior doctors who stayed strong while giving the best care we could for a high number of patients and their families.

“For me, professionally, the hardest part has been having to speak to and deal with patients who are severely unwell and have those conversations when someone is dying, both with the patient themselves and their relatives. It’s always been difficult to have those conversations; it never gets easier. Even after being a doctor for the last ten years these conversations are still extremely hard – it’s not a part of the job that gets easier with time. With Covid, dealing with situations where dying patients who had been previously fit and well, involved an added layer of difficulty. Wearing PPE also made delivering that kind of information really difficult, when you couldn’t show through your facial expressions that you cared about what was happening to that patient. It was also hard to have those conversations over the phone with relatives because you would always want to deliver this kind of news in person. Also, the fact that the conversations were so much more frequent took a toll, we were having these difficult conversations several times a day.

“A lot of other NHS workers, like myself, are from outside Scotland or from different countries and we haven’t been able to travel to see our families for a long time. My parents live in Sri Lanka and I haven’t seen them in a year and half, normally I would go back home to visit two or three times a year, so I think the enhanced pressure at work and the pressures of life away from work that everyone is facing, has also been difficult. But we have to be resilient and continue to do the good work that everyone has been doing but that can feel really hard at times, emotionally and physically, because it can be exhausting.

“Hopefully, the compliance with public health restrictions and the vaccinations will give us some light at the end of this long tunnel. We are all hoping for that. I’d like to see my parents, people want to see their families and do all of the things that they haven’t been able to, all of society has been so badly affected as a result of Covid, we all want to get back to normal.

“From a knowledge and skills point of view, Covid was a field we didn’t know much about when we started treating patients. We are constantly learning, and this hospital has taken the lead in some of the research in how to effectively identify and treat the virus, by running clinical trials. Some very ill but very brave patients agreed to take part in those trials and research to save or improve the lives of other people. We have to continue to find and keep up with all of these developments as well as continuing our work on the wards every day, there’s still a lot to be done. Hopefully we will come out of this stronger because of the experience we have been through and because of what we have learned in fighting Covid.

“The good things that happen are seeing patients who have been severely unwell, because of the progress we have made in treatments, get better and leave hospital – that’s what we are always working towards and hoping for. Survival of patients is obviously the most important thing for us but in situations where death is inevitable, it is extremely important to make the process of dying a comfortable one for the patient in every way that we can through the involvement of family and palliative care teams.

“I think it is the most difficult time I have faced in my ten years as a doctor and a number of patients and their families come to my mind when I think back. They will stay in my mind for a long time.”

Picture credit: Elaine Livingstone, Glasgow Live

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