‘I’ve Been Called Satan’ Says Dr Rachel Clarke On Facing Abuse In The Covid Crisis

We humanise, empathise, turn the unfathomable dimensions of the 100,000 dead into mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Increasingly, speaking out feels like a moral imperative. Because perhaps – if we can only disprove enough untruths, if we can just slow the onslaught of disinformation – we may have fewer dying hands to hold in the future

While fighting to keep Covid patients alive, NHS staffs are now battling a surge in abuse and denial in the second wave reported The Guardian.

Dr. Rachel Clarke shares how she is coping with the abuse in the Covid crisis and says, “Please imagine it, for a moment, if you can bear to. Being wheeled from your home by paramedics in masks who rush you, blue-lit, to a hospital. Then the clamour and lights, the confusion and fear, the faceless professionals, gloved and gowned, who eddy and swirl past your trolley. Your destination is intensive care where too soon, or perhaps not soon enough, you will arrive at a point of reckoning. You will blanch when they tell you, because you’ve watched the news and know what it signifies: you are going to be put on a ventilator.”

“You will understand, as clearly as they do, that your doctors cannot promise to save you. Here, though, is the detail that haunts me. For every patient who dies from Covid-19 in hospital, from the moment they encounter that first masked paramedic, they will never see a human face again. Not one smile, nor pair of cheeks, nor lips, nor chin. Not a single human being without barricades of plastic. Sometimes, my stomach twists at the thought that to the patients whose faces I can never unsee – contorting and buckling with the effort of breathing – I am no more than a pair of eyes, a thin strip of flesh between mask and visor, a muffled voice that strains and cracks behind plastic,” she said.

Of all Covid’s cruelties, surely the greatest is this? That it cleaves us from each other at precisely those times when we need human contact the most. That it spreads through speech and touch – the very means through which we share our love, tenderness and basic humanity. That it transforms us unwittingly into vectors of fatality. And that those we love most – and with whom we are most intimate – are the ones we endanger above all others, she added.

Dr. Clarke shares the Condition of ICUS and Wards of the hospital

She says it’s late January. The wards and ICUs are overwhelmed, awash with the virus. The patients seem younger, the new variant more virulent. We are drowning, drowning in Covid. The sight of a doctor or nurse breaking down has become unremarkable. Too close, for too long, to too many patients’ pain, we have become – just like them – saturated. Behind hospital doors, tucked away out of sight, we seem to suffer as one.

Outside, on the other hand, the virus has once again carved up the country into simmering, resentful, aggrieved little units. It’s too old, too cold to be doing this again. One way or another, lockdown hurts us all. But instead of unity, community and a shared sense of purpose – that extraordinary eruption of philanthropy last springtime – we seethe like rats in a sack, fractious, divided.

During the first wave, I knew the public had our backs. This time around, being an NHS doctor makes you a target. For the crime of asserting on social media that Covid is real and deadly, I earn daily abuse from a vitriolic minority. I’ve been called Hitler, Shipman, Satan and Mengele for insisting on Twitter that our hospitals aren’t empty.

Last night a charming “Covid sceptic” sent me this: “You are paid to lie and a disgrace to your profession. You have clearly sold your soul and are nothing more than a child abuser destroying futures. I do not consent to your satanic ways.”

A friend, herself an intensive care doctor, has just been told by another male “sceptic” that he intends to sexually abuse her until she requires one of her own ventilators. And this morning, another colleague, also female, was told: “You evil criminal lying piece of government shit. You need to be executed immediately for treason and genocide,” she added.

She further says, in short, we have reached the point in the pandemic where what feels like armies of trolls do their snarling, misogynistic utmost to silence NHS staff who try to convey what it’s like on the inside. Worse even than the hatred they whip up against NHS staff, the deniers have started turning up in crowds to chant “Covid is a hoax” outside hospitals full of patients who are sick and dying. Imagine being forced to push your way through that, 13 hours after you began your ICU shift. Some individuals have broken into Covid wards and attempted physically to remove critically ill patients, despite doctors warning that doing so will kill them.

I well understand why they want to gag us. Our testimony makes Covid denial a tall order. We bear witness not to statistics but to human beings. Our language is flesh and blood. This patient, and then this patient, and then another.

The pregnant woman in her 20s on ICU, intubated and lifeless. The three generations of one family on ventilators, each of them dying one after the other. We humanise, empathise, turn the unfathomable dimensions of the 100,000 dead into mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Increasingly, speaking out feels like a moral imperative. Because perhaps – if we can only disprove enough untruths, if we can just slow the onslaught of disinformation – we may have fewer dying hands to hold in the future.

Please don’t flinch. Please don’t look away. The truth of conditions inside our hospitals needs telling. To dispel a few prime ministerial press conference myths, the NHS is not “close to” or “on the brink of” being overwhelmed. We are here and now in the midst of calamity. The Covid patients keep on coming, so unnervingly unwell, and we race to find space for them. But all the spare staff have already been snatched from their day jobs. Elective surgery has shut down, everything inessential postponed. ICUs are filled with obstetricians, paediatricians, psychiatrists and surgeons doing their amateur best to support the small pool of staff with the proper expertise. Onwards across the country, where Covid patients live and die in their thousands, the medics are stretched perilously thinly. And still the new admissions come.

This week, a doctor friend in another trust sent me this, having been newly redeployed to her hospital’s ICU: “The situation at work is just dreadful. Once I’ve donned PPE and gone into ICU, hours and hours go by. And it’s just awful in there. It’s not calm like the news videos, it’s chaotic with alarms going constantly, patients being intubated and proned. Most of us are NOT trained to do this or deal with this. We are surgeons, anaesthetists, physicians, nurses, HCAs, porters etc. We are NOT ICU staff.”

 

 

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