Women* on the frontlines during the Covid19 pandemic
Bex Jordache is one of those superwomen who can do it all; international lacrosse player, full time healthcare specialist, and, to make matters worse, she’s a ridiculously lovely person.
Her endless bounds of positivity and tenacity are characteristics crucial to her current role working on a Covid-19 ward. I caught up with Bex to chat about her experiences on the ward and other moments of the pandemic. I want to take a special moment to thank her for speaking to me; she’s currently at home recovering from Coronavirus. It is NHS workers like her who without question, are putting themselves in harm’s way to help others. I was blown away by Bex’s attitude and determination, and I hope by the end of this piece, you can get a sense why.
Bex it's so lovely to talk to you! Tell me how you are holding up with Coronavirus?
So I went home from work after feeling feverish as I just knew something was up. There are quite a few healthcare staff off right now, but luckily we can now be swabbed ourselves so I was booked in to have my ‘drive through swab’ very quickly. Ironically, I feel much better today; I just went through 36 hours of fever and a loss of taste and smell. The latter is becoming a more common symptom that is specific to Coronavirus so we’re looking out for it.
I’m assuming it’s difficult for NHS workers like you to totally protect yourselves when you’re seeing infected patients?
Yeah - it’s difficult for us to protect ourselves. There is a lot of chatter about personal protective equipment because of the shortages, but guidance is constantly changing on what we can/cannot wear. We can only wear certain FFP3 Masks and Visors if you’re doing aerosol generating procedures, so if I’m just going to review a patient who is confirmed positive, then all I can wear is a surgical mask and an apron. This leaves my scrubs exposed, my arms out; if I’m leaning over a patient to listen to their chest with my stethoscope, then obviously I’m very directly exposed. There have been a few times when a patient has been heavily coughing and I’ve had to request more protective equipment. It’s difficult though because there is only so much that we have, and I would obviously want someone doing serious airway procedures to have the equipment! It would just be easier if there was more of it.
Have you had other moments in your medical training or work where you have been put so directly at risk?
Oh no - this is definitely a very unique moment as a health practitioner; never have our lives been so directly under threat from doing our jobs. Usually it’s the general stress that comes with the job, like the long, very intensive hours, that is what you have to keep an eye on, or other small things like needle stick injuries where blood born viruses can be a risk. Coronavirus has presented an entirely new form of risk that we just have to learn about at each new stage and adapt with it.
How have you been coping mentally with the intensity at work and the emotional labour of caring for patients?
To be honest, all the Coronavirus work started so quickly, and we were still operating on my everyday routine, I didn’t really appreciate the enormity of it until the first Thursday when everyone clapped. I got a bit emotional then, as I realised this was a worldwide, global struggle; it may not be directly affecting me mentally because I knew what I could be doing to help and get on with tackling it, but realising the enormity was tear-jerking!
Also, there’s a level of anticipatory fear in the air that things will get worse. Managing those things, as well as the continuous Covid-19 related research, have been the things that have just kept me focused and kept me going recently.
How has this changed your everyday life/career?
I am a foundation doctor so in your two years of foundation training you rotate around 6 different specialties to decide on your specialisation. Across the country, all the Foundation doctors were meant to rotate on the 1st of April, but that hasn’t happened. So, it has changed the year of training for many doctors in training, because we physically won’t be getting the same rotational exposure. Some friends training to be registrars have even had their interviews cancelled, so their plans to start a new chapter has been upended for now. That’s just one example, but it has made me very aware of how Coronavirus has changed the job market and planning for future careers.
You must have an incredible community of people at your hospital?
Yes totally – my hospital has been incredible. We are in constant communication with the management, who I don’t think have slept since this all began. There’s such a strong sense of community; every member is being proactive asking about how to help. There have been hospital requests for additional help on research and trails; my colleagues, on top of all their work, have all been so keen to get involved, it’s amazing. We have a hilarious “social” WhatsApp group for updates, and another one for the clinical research, information and guidance that comes in; that can be quite intense because it’s so vital that I’m informed for the patients and their families, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading!
How did the transition happen when the Covid-19 announcements about UK cases happen?
It happened so quickly that we had to make decisions about what would work in our hospital on our own. At the time, it was quite surreal, to be making what seemed like such important decisions on our own, but that’s just how you deal with moments like this; as healthcare professionals, we often have to make difficult decisions, but we’ve all had the training and are just re-adjusting day by day. My colleagues and I are also trying to offer reassurance to patients but also to our friends and family. The difficult thing with Covid-19 is that there are so many different ways that it appears, so sometimes I don’t have the answers, which can be frustrating.
What has been the most difficult thing to have happened since the outbreak for you working on the Covid ward?
The most difficult thing has been the decision to stop visitors coming to the hospital, which is totally the right decision in terms of stopping the spread of the virus, but it has been incredibly challenging. It’s hard to see very sick patients alone, unable to see family. For me personally too, as an extrovert, conversations with families and patients are part of my job that I really enjoy. That has totally changed now; families now are most likely self-isolating at home and in need of constant updates about their loved one over the phone, because they can’t see them. However, we’re so busy that we just simply do not have the time or ability to communicate with them at all times of the day… I really wish I could be there for them 24/7, because I can’t imagine how difficult this must be, but I’ve had to learn recently that I can’t always do that; we have to just try and do our best with the current situation, but it’s incredibly emotionally challenging. That was another reason why I got emotional during the clap, because it gave me some reassurance that people understood what the NHS and the country needs to do to get through this.
It’s just become a very weird reality knowing that when patients are dropped off, that might be the last time they see their family. That’s been especially tough.
Have you had time to catch up with friend and family?
Over the phone yes but when I began working on the Covid ward, I knew it would be really irresponsible of me to see anybody. I haven’t seen anybody since this started. In a strange way I’m more social than most right now because I can still go to work and see everybody there!
How have you dealt with the constant stream of news and social media posts since the outbreak?
Honestly I’ve been so busy and we’re so well informed at work that I haven’t been reading the news as much as usual. I’ll check it if there are political announcements and use it to keep up to date with global news. I’m only really using social media to keep in contact with friends and family. Beyond that, I’m trying to stay off it; I know that everyone out there is trying to adjust their routine to being at home, but I’ve had moments of slight frustration (especially if I’m exhausted at the end of a shift) where I’ve seen people posting about their boredom at being home, and all I want to do in that moment is sleep!!!
I know from our time playing together how much you love your sport; have you had any time to exercise during all of this?
Yes it’s so important to have exercise in my routine so I’ve tried to keep to my regular training. I was actually meant to be playing at the Senior Women’s Lacrosse Home Internationals right now but obviously that was cancelled. The team has done yoga sessions over Zoom though, which has been really fun.
You were always so unbelievably positive and tenacious when I played with you; has some of your experience as an athlete translated to moments in the hospital?
That’s very sweet of you – yes I definitely think that coming from a sporting background, where we have to train and perform under intensive pressure, I have the experience to know how to tackle the intensity that we’re experiencing right now. I’m staying nothing but positive and just working hard to be the best I can be right now.
I’ve never asked you which is slightly outrageous of me, and I hate to sound like a university interviewer, but why did you want to do medicine in the first place?
The given answer is that I want to help people, but really I grew up thinking about medicine for a while as my Mum is a Doctor, and I realised I could channel my extroverted love of people with a career that really does help people, which I find really rewarding.
Did you have any memorable mentors that inspired you in the past?
Yes - I had great teachers and coaches at school that believed in me. That encouragement really drove me. More recently, I’ve been learning from a lot of different doctors. Just watching and seeing how differently doctors do things has taught me a lot of very valuable lessons, from how to deal with stress, high pressure moments in the hospital, but also how to lead and be a supportive co-worker. That’s been especially interesting now, that we are under great pressure, to see how different personalities cope. I’m learning a lot from what I’m seeing and understanding the true importance of being flexible in my role.
A huge thank you to Bex again for taking the time to talk to me. If you know other individuals who should be celebrated for their work during the Covid19 period, please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org