Dr C – High pressure experience

Dr C is a Consultant in an acute environment. She leads a large team in a specialist unit.

She found the first wave of the pandemic exhausting – developing new procedures and policies, responding to the personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, and working beyond her hours regularly. ‘I did that in droves. I would always be here for just after 7:00 [AM], and you'd just work until you were tired. I never left with things not to do. I remember leaving here once at 11:00 [PM].’

Part of the tiring nature was managing the concerns of her team, who were very anxious over possible COVID-19 infections in patients and themselves. She said, ‘There was so much fear. Our first positive [COVID-19 test] sent the whole place into a tailspin…’

Even though there were minimal COVID-19 cases in patients, ‘the angst it generated [among staff] was just unbelievable.’

As a result of this, Dr C decided against following the national guidance to step down PPE in lower risk clinical areas. The fear was particularly acute in black and minority ethnic (BME) doctors. ‘I knew they were really scared. I was trying to have one-to-one meetings to try and allay anxiety and ask them why they were that concerned.’

Initially, Dr C was so busy she didn’t stop to think how she felt and she just kept going. On the third weekend into the pandemic, she heard a Bill Withers’ song being played on the radio shortly after his death and she broke down.

‘I just felt I had to cry, because I was just so exhausted and overwhelmed, and it just seemed such a nice thing to do. It just provided a period of release.’

‘But until that point, I hadn't really stopped and thought about how I felt about it all. The pressure to make sure that I kept the staff safe, the [patients] safe, whether the calls you made were the right ones. I know the buck doesn't stop with you, but at times, I felt it did.’

The emergence of the Black Lives Matter protests, spurred by several racially-charged incidents, compounded the existing stresses Dr C was feeling. To the extent it resulted in her taking a day’s leave. ‘It almost seemed, just as I was getting into the recovery phase, then that happened. It was additive, for me. I started to think about all the ways in which the Health Service or the society in which I live, and health, because that's part of the society, is unequal.

‘I just had to take a day out, once, just for me, and do nothing, and just lie in bed, and just meditate, because I needed to do that.’

Dr C described how she had witnessed casual racism and ‘unfair and unpleasant’ encounters. While people were not directly offensive to her, it still had an impact on her.

She said, ‘In the end, I got a group of my colleagues and my consultant colleagues and just told them how I was feeling, because we never have discussed race. I've been here for 18 years. It gave me an avenue to tell them how some of the care that happens, even in our organisation, affects me.’

Home working saved her some time, so she was able to take up yoga – once she had persuaded herself not to fill that time with work emails.