We are not going to risk our morning walk in the park today in the hope that the runners in Regent’s Park Outer and Inner Circles will become a little more concerned with public health and stop owning the pavements. Fortunately, Dido has her beloved dog walker coming today although the pack is shrinking. She, unlike me has decided to go back to bed.
What I have done so far today. Time now 9.43.
We woke at six as usual with Dido determined to get up, although she’s gone back to bed now. I check my phone and emails addictively. My eyes have barely started to focus. I meditate for twenty minutes; I follow my breath and imagine I am an airbag-like bellows. Tuesday is linen day. We have an exceptionally large bed because Dido likes to sleep stretched out head to feet and the duvet cover change over is a challenge. The thing I dread most is not the washing, nor the ironing but remaking the bed with fresh linen. My resistance is so great that it will be the very last thing we do tonight.
Breakfast is porridge and coffee except I don’t have any appetite until late in the day. We gargle with salt and water. After which I attend to my appearance which changes by the day as my hair becomes more and more unruly. My husband is kind enough to call it Pre-Raphaelite. Cleaning Dido’s teeth as well as my own is comforting to me.
8.30 AM. My first Skype, currently I am now free until 11. In the course of the Skype I learn that the person I am talking to participated in their first Zoom ‘therapeutic’ meeting last night. How quickly we seem to have adapted. We discuss their work strategy and how difficult he and many others are finding it to cope without their daily overdoses of adrenalin. And international travel. At the end of our conversation I risk making a fool of myself by suggesting that he take on board that outside of his CEO concerns of making moral decisions which reflect integrity he also take the domestic kingdom, to which he has now been transported, more seriously and form a Boy Squad with his teenage flock and take responsibility for looking after the household bed linen. We have already discussed how frequently he has told his wife “You just need to tell me what to do.” Her response is identical to my own, which I have got fed up of repeating: “If only you didn’t need telling.” I also recommend him not to introduce these new emergency cleaning measures immediately after our Skype.
What else have I learnt today? When I looked out of the window I saw some bees humming around the oleander. I just spoke to my greengrocer friend called Eric who has a tucked-away shop near my lost domain of a consulting room in Marylebone. He is seventy but still going to market every day and last week delivered us an amazing box of fruit and vegetables that still seemed fresh with morning dew. Eric tells me that currently 80% of the lorry delivery force in the Market are currently on unpaid leave until the food chain rights itself. True or False, I have no idea.
I don’t read the Daily Mail but I assume Martin published the following document today about doctors like himself coming out of retirement and returning to the Front Line although he is now 70. Below is a proof copy which he sent me last week and which I have not corrected although I shall add my own addendum.
BTW Return To GP
By the way I was recruited on Friday by the General Medical Council to re-join the workforce of NHS England as part of the government response to the raging Covid19 pandemic. I had retired from clinical practice on April Fools’ Day in 2017 in the wake of a long illness which left me so breathless and feeble that I was unable to manage the stairs at work. After 44 years as a GP and palliative care doctor, despite being threescore years and ten, I am now fit as a flea so why wouldn’t I respond to the call for help?
I entered medical school in the heady days of flower power, the summer of love, and protest against the Vietnam war. Those of my generation trained from a sense of vocation and it was about commitment, fascination for the subject, and the sense that it was a privilege to be involved in health care. My colleagues and I have lived in a golden era of medical science and there will be few of my generation who will not return when they receive the call: the problem is not just shortage of ventilators and equipment, it is shortage of experienced personnel skilled in the care of the seriously ill.
In May 1940 my father, at the age of 20, was anaesthetising battle casualties as they came off the boats following the retreat from Dunkirk; he had been drafted from Westminster Medical School down to Dover Castle at the time of the crisis, and now as I write my own son is an anaesthetist on 12 hour shifts in an intensive care unit at a major London hospital, and I welcome an opportunity to put my shoulder back to the wheel. It’s what we do.
I am taken aback to hear that a medical student whom I counselled when she was applying for medical school has been called back home by her mother who is fulminating that her undergraduate daughter is working unpaid alongside senior (and well paid) colleagues in London. No doubt she is worried about the inherent danger from COVID-19 virus, what did she think her daughter had sign up for? Surely not because medicine is a financially rewarding job? I guarantee that she will be back within days, anxious not to miss what will be one of the formative experiences of her career, she is an invaluable pair of hands: her anxious mother might just have to stand up and be counted. For the student doctor, stressful, but that is what it takes to become a battle hardened and experienced professional. 433 words
My response to Martin’s inspiring decision is that by coincidence the previous week I rang him about a patient he had referred to me for psychotherapy some years back who also suffered from the same rare disease which they have both now recovered from called Sarcoidosis. Martin’s reply was that even when the illness – as far as can be gathered – has gone into remission there is a residual vulnerability and his advice to our ‘patient’ was to protect himself and retreat. Doctors who are born to be doctors never have the privilege of retreating in the case of emergency from the front line until Nature conspires otherwise. I can only imagine how wonderful it will be for anyone who has the good fortune to have Martin caring for them during the crisis of COVID19.. Although it is now three years since Martin retired from General Practice I know some of his patients still ‘mourn’ his absence. Others express their grief through anger as they feel as though he deserted them.
Today, I received this poem from someone I have looked after for so long I call her my non-biological child. The family grows and grows just like her poem. I have written it before and I will repeat now. One of the greatest privileges of my work is looking after, and caring about younger people, who are in a minority in my practice and sometimes helping them to re-evaluate their lives and Selves. Unlike Peter Pan they grow up and then it feels as if even their children are part of my ‘family’. Yes, being a therapist can open one to a great chain of mutual being and compassion which you cannot find on the Internet.
Covid – 19
First it was Charles, then Matthew, Celia, Kate, Tara, Jessica, Phoebe, John, Peter,
Then Me –
It was bound to happen you see,
We had seen it in the news –
In China, a few months ago,
We had seen the lockdown,
The flying drones
Over swathes of a shut-down province,
Why wouldn’t it come to us?
Planes still piloting in and out
No suspension to Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai,
Why, oh why, we would shout,
What did they think?
We were all immune
And the Brit Grit would sink
In and see us through.
What a joke.
But it’s no joke.
Next it was Billy, Rudy, Marley, Molly, Kizzy, Bella
Then Maggie – the dog.
Swear she got it from the park,
The park that should have been closed
Weeks ago but instead,
The government waited,
Waited for the real pandemic
To go and go and go,
To arrive on our doorstep,
Creep in through our window
And throw us a glance
Before deciding to linger,
Maybe I’ll stay, maybe I’ll destroy
Or maybe, I say, you should self-destruct
And fuck off for good. (By Amy)