Sadiq Khan hosts an exclusive episode of GLAMOUR Unfiltered to ask how the pandemic has affected two frontline nurses’ physical & mental health
This time last year, when we all went into the first lockdown, no one could have predicted the unprecedented devastation and havoc the Covid-19 pandemic would wreak across the world. It has been a global war against this invisible enemy and our brave soldiers on the front line have been our key workers, mainly in the public sector working in health, social care and transport. To mark the one year anniversary of the first lockdown this week, GLAMOUR has joined focus with Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London for a one-off ‘Unfiltered’ special, where the Mayor turns journalist and interviews two female key workers from the capital: Dorcas, a nutritional nurse turned ICU nurse, and Sue, a transport support and enforcement officer, to hear how the pandemic has affected and impacted both their work and home lives and their physical and mental health. Over to you, Mr Mayor…
Sadiq Khan: I’m really proud to be taking part in this Glamour, Unfiltered special, to mark the one year anniversary of the COVID lockdown. And it’s great pleasure to speak to Dorcas and Sue, thank you so much for making the time to speak to me. Dorcas firstly, thank you so much for what you’ve done over the last year. It has been extraordinary, your efforts. Tell us what your job is.
DORCAS: So I currently work as a nutrition nurse specialist based at the Royal Free hospital.
SK: And how long have you been a NHS nurse?
D: Eight years.
SK: Just give us a flavour of how COVID has changed the work you do, in relation to what you did?
D: So before the pandemic, I worked as a nutrition nurse. And my job, very quickly changed [because of] COVID. I was redeployed around March 2020. And this was basically, to help relieve pressure from the nurses, and to give them the support. So during the first wave I went to the Nightingale hospital, and then in this current wave, I’ve been on a ward, and currently I’m back on my row, because things are getting better.
SK: Sue, can I thank you too for the work you’ve been doing over the last 12 months to keep our city going; to allow key workers like Dorcas to get from home to work and back home safely again. What’s your job in relation to being a transport enforcement officer what does that mean?
Sue: The transport support and enforcement officer role, primarily focused on dealing with antisocial behaviour, on the network. And supporting frontline staff in the face of workplace violence, and aggression. While still being visible, at least showing presence for both staff, and traveling public.
SK: What we know with this awful virus, is it spreads by people coming into contact. But one of the things the government did, is they said if you use public transport, you’ve got to wear a face covering. And I understand you’ve got an important role in ensuring people are wearing the face coverings.
S: Since the beginning of lockdown, we have mainly been doing advice and guidance, on the wearing of face coverings. Since the Public Health Act 2020 came into effect, we have then moved into an enforcement position.
SK: Sue thank you for what you’ve been doing because I know the difference it makes wearing a face mask on public transport, it’s made a big, big difference. Dorcas, one of the things that we all did, once a week was to applaud our frontline heroes like yourself. What impact did that have on you and colleagues?
D: I think at that time it was really important, that as the medical society or as nurses, we felt very much heard, and when we felt like for the first time that people really understood our role…the gratitude from the whole nation was incredible.
SK: But I know how incredibly hard it was in the wards, and not just not just ICU, but eventually the Nightingale. Give us a flavour of just how hard it was, during the worst parts of the pandemic. Apologies, Dorcas if it brings back some of the real difficulties you had back then.
D: The hardest part of the whole pandemic, was the emotional, the physical, the mental exhaustion. You go to work, you look after really, really sick patients. So, a lot of them were from the BAME community, and you know, I felt really anxious to start with. I had this huge pressure of looking after myself, and also the amount of patients that I saw pass away. In my normal job as a nutrition nurse, I don’t really see that vast amount of people pass away and that was really difficult for me. So, before going to the Nightingale I had never worked in an ICU unit. Just being faced with, you know, sickest patient, that I’ve ever seen. It was really daunting.
SK: We know unfortunately, this pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian, minority ethnic Londoners that it did across the country. You must have had conversations with your family and friends about you being in the front line. But also being in a group that’s particularly at risk, from this virus. Firstly, thank you, for literally risking your life, to look after others. But what sort of conversations have you had with your family and friends, about putting yourself in harm’s way to help others?
D: I remember sister-in-law [was worried], and I said, “Oh I’m gonna go to the Nightingale.” And she said, “No, Dorcas, please do not do this.” But, when you’re a nurse, it’s all about the compassionate care that you plan out when you do your job. It’s a passion for it. I said, “I can’t be at home, and not, not help… Especially when you do have the skill to do that.” My mother, because we’re from a religious background, she said “You know, pray and just see what you feel.” And I did that…but for me, as a nurse I needed to show up and do my part.
SK: Sue, you also knowingly put yourself in harm’s way, to make sure public transport kept going. Share with us some of the fears and anxieties you and colleagues have in your line of work, with the transport support enforcement officer role, being new.
S: It’s been challenging, working and dealing with those that have been going through loss, losing loved ones, losing jobs and so forth. Then we’ll have to deal with the inevitable changes in our work environment, traveling and having to wear a face mask…Yeah, it has been quite challenging and quite stressful. Fearing for a bit about your own safety and well-being as well.
SK: Unfortunately, not everyone has been responsible [in wearing a mask]. You may have examples where people have needed to be persuaded about why it’s important to wear a face mask?
S: It’s only a small minority, where we feel that we have to step in and enforce. We have procedures in place, to help us, to assist us in enforcing. For example, we wear body-on cameras which can help in the process of de-escalation. We have the means of radio, assistance from our colleagues, and so forth.
SK: I’m lucky, I can do my job working from the safety of my home. But I think my mental healthhas suffered a bit, in relation to being at home, being isolated and the challenges of the pandemic. Please don’t talk about them if you feel it’s personal, but have there been times where your mental health has been affected?
D: When I was working on the ICU unit, you don’t really afford to to think about yourself, meaning that my mental health really took a back seat. During the peak of COVID, I remember being really anxious, not being able to sleep. And just hearing the machines of the ICU unit…
And then I remember [after the first wave] when I was able to really reflect about what I’d gone through. And I thought, how can I go back to an ICU unit, if we did have another wave? I was constantly anxious thinking about it. We knew that there was something wrong. So, during the first wave, I went back to destructive behavior, which was either like, just even eating or not eating enough…And I remember just saying, “I can’t do this again”. So, when I was asked to go back to ICU, during this current wave. I had to say no. I had to just really be honest with them, and say actually I can’t do this. And fortunately for me, I was listened to. And I am currently having some psychotherapy, which is helping. And I guess I’ve wanted to challenge the whole concept of what a strong woman is meant to be. Because people will see nurses or doctors or people that work for the national public health service and think that we’re really, really strong. But strength doesn’t really necessarily mean that you can’t be vulnerable. I think for me talking about this, talking to my colleagues about this, actually gives me that strength, to realise that I’m not alone and really challenged that public perception of what a strong woman is meant to be.
SK: Dorcas, thank you for sharing that. Sue, how about you? What, what sort of challenges have you, if any, gone through over the last year?
S: I’ve been having some form of anxiety about my own safety and wellbeing, being on the front line every day…And, when I finish work, and I close my door behind me, I switch off, I can do something simple like, read a book, play some music. And, I also have two rescue cats, which is very therapeutic and relaxing.
SK: I know, for me having our dog has been a big game changer, so I know the difference it makes having a pet at home. But Dorcas, Sue, I’ve seen the last year some amazing acts of Londoners. You two are a good example that have given me hope. Do you have any stories about things over the last year that have given you hope, and a sense of optimism going forward?
D: A patient that I was looking after, I remember everyone just thinking that this patient wasn’t going to make it. And then a couple of months went by and I went on a ward to see another patient, and I saw this patient, being discharged, and walking out of the hospital. And I remember, just starting to weep. And I just though, this is why we do what we do. This is why we work for the NHS. To see people leave, and actually be healed.
S: Something that I found, getting out on deployment, is having people come up to me, and talk about how lonely they felt through self-isolation. And they basically just want someone to talk to, and to listen to them. And then thank you afterwards for listening to them. And it’s just little things like that, that you know, make you smile.
SK: I want to say one thing that I know that gives us all hope for this being the last lockdown, and light at the end of the tunnel is a vaccine. Dorcas, I know you have had your vaccine. And unfortunately, there are some parts of our communities across our country who are hesitant towards having the vaccine. What’s your message to anybody who’s in doubt about receiving the vaccine?
D: I have always spoken to my families and friends from the BAME community or, just people that are a bit hesitant about it. I say speak your medical professionals. Get testimonies, get feedback from people who have actually had it. And do your research. There’s a lot of videos going on on WhatsApp, but we need to be wise about it. I think as medical professionals, we’re here to manage people’s expectations, we’re here to listen to your concerns…But, personally I am so grateful…I didn’t even think about it twice [about getting it]. I mean, I was anxious ’cause it was a new thing….But I knew that I wanted this, because I knew that I wanted to protect my patients, protect my family, and then go on holiday. Have some fun.
SK: I was lucky and unlucky because of my severe asthma, I was offered the vaccine. I didn’t hesitate. And my mum’s had it as well. I felt a little bit new. But when my mum had it, it was like a whole weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I’m inspired by speaking to Londoners who are heroes like you. If there’s a message you want to give to Glamour readers, what would it be based on your experiences of the last year?
D: I would want to say that in the midst of uncertainty we’ve been through a lot of fear and a lot of pain. A lot of people are hurting but I really just want to convey this message just to say that we need to take our mental health as a priority…please, please just get some help if you know that you need help.
S: My message is to continue to adhere to all government guidelines with face coverings, make sure they are covering your nose and your mouth to your face without you touching it entering and exiting the station.
SK: Sue, Dorcas I as the mayor of London, thank you for being extraordinary over the last 12 months, you’re doing amazing work. I’m sure you’ve inspired Glamour readers as much as you’ve inspired me. And on behalf of Londoners, thank you so much and stay safe.