Blog: 19 May 2020My Time as a Porter During Covid-19

Evan Henman

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Evan Henman

Urban Designer

Reading office

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Working for the Royal Berkshire Hospital as a porter during the Covid Pandemic has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. There were so many moments I thought ‘how the hell did I end up here…’.

My partner Annabel works as an Occupational Therapist at the hospital and was working on the elderly care wards that were affected by Covid. Her exposure to the virus resulted in an early start to working from home for me. As the hospital quickly tried to adjust to the pandemic there was a mass call for staff. One afternoon I said “jeez I wish there was something I could do to help out’. Annabel responded with “well I heard we need porters as well…. you could do that”. After a quick application process, and a morning’s training I had started the job.

My main initial role was moving Covid patients to receive CT scans. What really struck me from being in the hospital was just how different it felt. It was so much quieter than usual due to no visitors being allowed and all the patients and staff wearing masks. It’s very strange to introduce yourself to someone without actually seeing their face. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a patient that has tested positive for a deadly virus that so little is known about, and then everyone that comes near you has full protective gear on. You could really see the fear in patients’ eyes. It must have been such a scary situation. My initial thought was to try and crack a few smiles as I moved patients, but even with my Aussie bants it just didn’t feel appropriate.

 

My most notable experience from working as a porter was my shift on ‘Hot A&E’. This means the side of A&E which handles all the suspected Covid patients coming in from the community. It was a surreal experience. As you entered the ward there are signs everywhere saying (DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT PROTECTIVE GEAR), with tape directing you into a side room to put all the protective kit on. Once you entered you could not take your face mask, gloves or apron off until you left. After a quick tour of the ward and brief training it was onto moving my first patient. Like with all the patients I couldn’t really see the persons face because of the mask. As I started to chat to the patient, I thought to myself “jeez that accent sounds familiar”. I then looked at this name tag on his wrist and realised I knew this patient from playing sport. I was shocked just how much knowing the patient affected me. I later got in touch and thankfully he had not contracted the virus and has made a full recovery.

As the shifts went on, I acclimatised to how sick the patients were. For example, one bloke that came in and his foot was at 90 degrees externally rotated to his leg… and that wasn’t the reason he was in the hospital. Needless to say I took extra care whilst moving him to not smack his foot on a door… he had enough problems. Once I got home from a shift I found myself just collapsing on the sofa – it’s like sensory overload. I remember plenty of times Annabel has got home from work and one the same thing, and am ashamed of how little sympathy I had for the toll a shift at the hospital took on her. I now have a whole new perspective for what healthcare workers deal with on a daily basis. Not just the physical toll but more significantly the toll on their mental health. I did find myself struggling to sleep at times as I ran over all the things I experienced and saw, some of it can be hard to process.

Overall for me working in the hospital was one of the most overwhelming experiences I have ever had but to all the other staff this was just routine work. I have so much respect for what they do, and how they do it so professionally and competently. But this is not just in this current crisis. Many staff reminded me “this feels like a normal shift, in fact Christmas time this year was much worse…”. Hearing that was a real eye opener to just how challenging their job can be on a regular basis. So despite the situation, I am grateful for the chance this has given me to  understand the amazing work of the NHS.

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Lets Find a Way, Covid-19, #letsfindaway, NHS