Dr B – Consultant experience

Dr B is an Intensive Care Consultant. During spring 2020, he worked in an Intensive Care Unit treating acutely unwell patients with COVID-19.

Dr B described how clinically challenging treating COVID-19 patients has been. Despite seeing the pandemic coming, the scale of illness left him feeling unprepared. ‘We always knew a pandemic was coming, and we've had pandemic plans... But COVID-19 as an illness is like nothing else really… a lot of our plans were [not applicable], because of how severe the ITU1 patients were. They were so delicate it was unbelievable.’

Before the pandemic, Dr B might see one very sick patient who is ventilated and prone2  when he arrived in the evening on call. Whereas during the pandemic, he recalled, ‘there was an evening I walked on [to the ward] with 16 ITU beds, every single one of them prone, ventilated, very hypoxic3.’

Doctors treating patients with COVID-19 have faced many challenges. In particular, Dr B described the difficulties of treating an emerging unknown disease. ‘A lot of the stuff we thought initially was nonsense... An expert opinion is the lowest tier of medical evidence. When it's all you've got, you've got to use it. But the initial stuff we got was completely different on how we manage these patients now, and you can see the mortality drop through the pandemic. Part of that is patients, because the very, very vulnerable people got it first, died quickly. But part of it is we got a lot better at looking after it.’

Dr B also described the emotional toll of losing patients in unique circumstances where bereaved families were unable to visit. ‘The first five or six [patients] we looked after died, and we were starting to wonder if this was completely futile… People were handing us their beloved relative who had a cough, and they were getting a sealed casket back, three weeks later, and not allowed to see anything in between.’

Throughout the pandemic, doctors have been dealing with the personal impact as well as the professional. Dr B described how difficult it was being unable to see his family, especially his father who was shielding due to illness. He also watched colleagues deal with bereavement from afar as they were unable to return to their families to grieve. ‘We have people from all over Europe as consultants and they started losing relatives and couldn't go back for funerals, because they wouldn't be allowed out of their home country again.’

Despite the personal and professional challenges doctors have faced, they have continued to show immense dedication, bravery and professionalism. Dr B is proud of how his team responded to the challenges during the spring peak of the pandemic, especially their energy and can-do attitude in the early stages. However, he is fearful of the future and the consequences of a second peak of infections.

1 Intensive Therapy Unit is another name for an Intensive Care Unit.

2 Proning is the precise process of turning patients so they’re lying on their stomachs. It is used as part of COVID-19 treatment.

3 Hypoxia is a dangerous condition that occurs when there’s an insufficient supply of oxygen to tissues in the body.