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‘The thanks and recognition that NHS staff need right now’

On Time to Talk Day 2021, Dr Helen Lane, a consultant physician at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, has published a new poem, ‘It’s good to talk’. She turned to poetry writing as a way to unwind during the pandemic. Here, she discusses her experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic:

I started writing poetry as a form of release when the emotional burden of the pandemic began to interfere with my ability to be a ‘normal’ wife and mum.

I’ve written a lot of poems, but I have only shared two publicly. The first was published on our Health Board’s social media channels, and I was amazed at how many bereaved relatives replied, thanking staff looking for after their loved ones when they couldn’t.

That’s the thanks and recognition that NHS staff need right now.

I’m not afraid to show my vulnerable side, and anyone who believes they have been unaffected by working on the front line during this pandemic is probably fooling themselves.

For months now, we have all lived and worked under enormous mental and physical daily pressure. The emotional strain has been put to one side as we deal with the biggest battle that we’ve ever known. The fear is that opening this box of emotion would prevent us from providing the care that patients and relatives need so badly.

As physicians, we know that we are vital frontline workers, yet the fear of the unknown was very real when this began. Many of us have suffered with COVID-19 ourselves; others have covered for colleagues with the disease, while worrying about them as our friends. Some of us have even had to care for colleagues and friends in our own hospital, putting our emotions to one side so we can remain competent and professional. Junior colleagues and medical students have demonstrated incredible resilience. They have supported us as much as we have supported them.

We are all acutely aware of the collateral damage that awaits us.

And in the background, we all have a personal story to tell: the effect on us, and on our families, who love and support us so that we can support others.

The past year has had a huge impact on the entire NHS workforce. Everybody who works in a hospital has struggled with what they’ve seen. The news coverage may have focused on doctors and nurses, especially those working in intensive care, but personally, I am grateful to every single person who has helped a patient, consoled a family, cooked our meals, cleaned our wards, dispensed our medications, coordinated our COVID-19 response, vaccinated our staff and relatives, answered concerned phone calls, found beds, facilitated rehabilitation if patients survive – and helped their families if they don’t. The list goes on.

I’d particularly like to thank those who ask us how we are coping; these people allow just enough emotion to be released from the box to allow us to carry on.
………………

‘It’s good to talk’

I pray he survived
I rush to the ward
He tries to smile
My greatest reward.

His family so grateful
So precious, but faceless
Such emotion and fear
His survival is priceless.

I return to the office
I’ll get through today!
Then flowers from the caring
Perhaps I can stay?

But all staff around me
So struggle each day
They suffer in silence
And dare they to say?

Such supportive staff
Vital cogs in the team
The grief they have witnessed
The things they have seen.

Who asks the porters?
Who hope for the best
Who cradle the sick
Then carry them to rest.

Who asks the domestics?
Who clean every space
After those who kept leaving
Having lost life’s race.

Who cares for the caterers?
Who keep us all going?
Exposed to a risk
But carry on, knowing.

That we all need each other
Now, more than ever
And we may just survive this
But only together.

 

Dr Helen Lane, consultant physician
Associate Medical Director for Quality Improvement
Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board