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  • Writer's pictureRichard Cree

Quality Time

Friday 24th April 2020

COVID Figures for 23nd April

UK Hospital Deaths 638 / Total 18,738

James Cook Hospital – Total deaths – 142

James Cook cases in Critical Care – 18 / 9 ventilated

Nicky and I are both at work today. My wife is also an Intensive Care Consultant working at James Cook. We normally don’t work alongside one another because it creates problems with childcare. However, under the current circumstances we have had to do it when necessary and the kids have been left to their own devices.

Another of my colleagues has become unwell and has been tested for coronavirus. We are assuming that his test will be positive as a number of my colleagues have fallen ill in the last few days. The wife of another colleague has tested positive so he is self-isolating for the next 14 days. I am stepping in to cover one of their shifts today.

As it happens, another Consultant is doing the same so there are more of us than we had planned. I am offered the chance to catch up on some paperwork as I had planned to work a standard shift today. However, I’m not a big fan of paperwork and would rather work clinically instead. As I know the ICU patients that Nicky is looking after we decide to do a ward round together.

Nicky - PPE Version

Our junior doctors find this very amusing. I’m not sure it counts as ‘quality time’ but Nicky and I don't get to see much of each other at the moment so it’s quite nice to spend some time together even if it is discussing the patients. Of course, I never miss the opportunity for some pompous ‘Doctor in The House’ style banter: “The patient is clearly suffering from a secondary bacterial infection. Do you concur Dr Cree?” and I expect her to respond appropriately: “Indeed I do Dr Cree, kindly proceed.”

Nicky finds this a lot less amusing than I do…

What’s interesting is that I am reminded of how conscientious Nicky is. She is remarkably focused on detail in a way that, to be honest I’m not. I am easily distracted but am quite good at what I would call the ‘bigger picture’ stuff. Between us, we work pretty well together. A bit like Jack Spratt and his wife if you need an apt analogy.

Things are better on the ICU today. We have two patients who continue to improve and the very sick patients are no worse. There is relatively little to do and so we even get to have lunch together. The ICU coffee room is perhaps not the most romantic location, and I am hardly spoiling Nicky with free reheated canteen beef stroganoff. But it’s still nice to relax and enjoy some peace.

I have to transfer a patient for a CT scan in the afternoon. We have now worked out a way to do this without taking a walking tour of the entire hospital and have even rationalised some of the excessive PPE use in order to conserve supplies.

When I return things are still quiet and so Nicky and I decide to take a walk outside in the sunshine. It’s a lovely day and we take a stroll in front of A&E, past the helipad and over towards Occupational Health. We get the odd Paddington stare from one or two members of the public who look like they disapprove of our blatant disregard for social distancing. I sense this might be the one time when Nicky might admit to being married to me in public!

The car park area over by Occupational Health has been turned into a drive through coronavirus testing area for staff and their families. There are four bays and it looks like a pretty slick operation. It’s not too busy which I shall take as a good sign that the rate of infection amongst staff is not as bad as it could be.

Our Trust has been able to offer virus testing for the past few weeks, although not in drive-through form until now. It has helped enormously. During the very early stages of the pandemic we had a number of colleagues who developed fevers, coughs or cold-like symptoms and they had to isolate at home for the next seven days, even if they felt better. It was not possible to know whether they had coronavirus, the common cold or (adopts Colonel Mainwaring voice) ‘simply malingering.’

Testing has changed this, minimising the time off that staff need to take when unwell and preventing a potential two-week absence if a member of their family is unwell with a non COVID-illness. It also provides reassurance to staff who will receive confirmation that they have contracted coronavirus and recovered. And it turns out, unsurprisingly, that no-one was malingering.

After reviewing the patients upon our return to ICU, our colleagues kindly let Nicky leave for home early so we can have the evening off together. She can reciprocate tomorrow. We pick up pizza on the way home by way of an apology to the kids for having abandoned them for the day.

Swab, Big-Mac and fries please...

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