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Updated on Apr 1, 2020. Posted on Apr 1, 2020

An NHS Doctor On The Front Line Told Us What It's Like In Hospitals During The Coronavirus Outbreak

"I do think personally there's more pressure. ... There's more at stake, especially because we’re seeing younger patients, and in ... certain situations we're actually treating our colleagues."

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Dr Emeka Okorocha is a 27-year-old working in emergency medicine, mainly based in London. Okorocha spoke to BuzzFeed News about what it's been like so far treating people with the novel coronavirus.

Okorocha said the patients who come into A & E now are more ill than those working in the department are typically used to seeing; those patients are trying their best to avoid going to hospital until they absolutely have to.

He said: "It’s quite hectic, but at the same time it's slower. It's weird because you have less patients coming, obviously, because everyone is at home self-isolating and people are avoiding hospitals if they can.

"So maybe [before the outbreak] in a day you’ll see 10 to 14 people, maybe 3 to 4 of them are generally quite sick and would need quite a lot of intervention in A & E and need [to be] transferred into a medical surgical unit or an intensive care unit.

"Now ... a lot of the people we’re seeing — in fact, the majority of people we see — we have to admit because they’re actually quite ill.

"Though we are seeing less in number ... the stakes are higher because they are more sick. If someone's coming in hospital in this kind of climate we know: Okay, this person is actually quite unwell."

Okorocha said he feels there is more pressure on staff than usual because they are seeing younger patients and sometimes treating their colleagues.

He said: "It is a little bit harder when you see someone your age or someone you’ve worked with or someone you know come in, and you're thinking, Okay, I need to do whatever I can to save this person.

"So often you're acting on your subconscious, and you're thinking you're going through the right protocols and the right motions.

"But when you’re overthinking things ... and you're a bit scared. You're a bit nervous. Your anxiety comes up a little bit. That's when it gets a bit tricky, and that's when you start to feel the pressure a little bit.

"You're like, okay, what are the stakes if this doesn't go right? What are the stakes if we can't intubate this person?"

Okorocha thinks everyone has similar concerns in the backs of their minds, and he sees his colleagues try to do their best to keep relaxed and continue working.

"Because as a doctor — especially on the front lines — you want to keep objective. You want to keep clinically sound; you want to keep relaxed if you can — because when you're anxious, when you think subjectively, you're making mistakes.

He said usually they try not to treat people they know personally — but in this situation, they don't really have a choice.

Okorocha added that treating and investigating colleagues brings a level of anxiety because he starts to wonder if it could happen to him: "If this happened to this nurse, it can happen to me. If this happened to this doctor, it can happen to me. You do have that level of fear in the back of your mind: What if I fall sick. What if I spike a temperature? What if I'm coughing? Does that mean I can get to this level?"

"Obviously you don't want to think that. And ... statistics and percentages show generally if you have no comorbidities or diseases, generally [if you're] younger the prognosis is generally better for you. But because of what we’ve seen, it does make things tougher, and you’ll see that people are a little bit scared."

Okorocha said he recently had to treat a nurse who worked in the intensive treatment unit. He said she had become sick during the shift.

He said: "You could just see she had a bit of fear in her eyes because she was treating another nurse who was working in our clinical decisions unit who had gotten unwell to the point where she had to be intubated and ventilated. And so because of that, you could see how she herself was anxious and scared ... for her own situation."

He said that they've been trying their hardest to practise social distancing in hospitals, even when they're in tight spaces.

"It's not exactly the biggest department ever; you're brushing over shoulders with someone literally every two seconds, but people are like, 'Keep your distance — two meters.' And it's making everyone slightly hostile, but everyone is powering through."

Okorocha said that at the beginning, his ward was low on personal protection equipment (PPE), which meant staffers were trying to decide when they should wear the enhanced and the standard version of PPE based on patients' level of illness, which sometimes wasn't always available.

He said: "We have standard and we have an enhanced — and a lot of time the standard PPE we’re using it with people who are suspected of possible COVID but are bit more low-risk.

"So you go see them and you think, Okay, I can wear a surgical mask, an apron, and gloves, and that's fine.

"Then obviously with some of the ... patients, the ones who require intubation, ... some sort of means of ventilation for themselves because their oxygen saturation is just so low we have to have what is called an enhanced PPE.

You can watch the video interview with Dr Okorocha here:

View this video on YouTube

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Ikran is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Ikran Dahir at ikran.dahir@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Ada Enechi at ada.enechi@buzzfeed.com.

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