10 individual accounts of the coronavirus in Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 May 2020 | UPDATED: 07:46 26 May 2020
Ten inspirational stories and extraordinary experiences of the lockdown from around the county
Ben Allen is a newly qualified first year doctor from Fulwood, Preston who is now working in a Covid hospital. this is his story from the frontline
I never envisaged my first year on the wards to be dominated by a pandemic. In order to acquire the breadth of experience and skills within the hospital, the usual routine would see us rotate through a range of different specialities, spending four months on each. But towards the end of our second rotation at the beginning of March, we were told we would not move on to our next post and would instead move to an emergency Covid-19 rota.
We all understood the decision to suspend our usual training had not been taken lightly, with this new rota being implemented to prepare for the anticipated surge in coronavirus patients entering the hospital. As the weeks progressed and the pandemic in our country worsened, we saw elective surgery lists postponed and the hospital enter a greater state of uncertainty. Would we be able to cope with the vast number of very ill patients predicted to flood through the doors? Would the workforce itself collapse through illness? I’m based on a ward where all patients are confirmed to have coronavirus, and I face the daily fear I may unknowingly bring the virus home and put my wife at risk. No matter how meticulously you wash your hands or attempt to wear the best available personal protective equipment, that fear never goes away.
But there have been positives. One of the most impressive things I’ve seen so far is how quickly we have mobilised and adapted our practices to help combat a disease we know so little about. It has been uplifting to see so many colleagues from allied professions answer the call and step into unfamilar roles. From dentists to final year medical students, people have stepped out of their comfort zones and taken on new roles – some have even come back into the profession from retirement. But an avoidable tragedy brought about by this crisis is the worried mindset of people who are delaying seeking medical advice when they have a genuine need. We understand why people are cautious about coming into A&E, but we are still open as usual. Delaying going to hospital could have devastating consequences.
I remember the same question popping up at medical school interviews: Why do you want to be a doctor? Many of us replied with something along the lines of ‘to save lives and help people’. Even without a pandemic, it’s important for any doctor to learn we cannot save everyone. But learning to deal with death on this scale is beyond what we could have imagined, and it sometimes makes us feel like we have failed in our job.
When we hear the people at 8pm every Thursday night, banging wooden spoons on metal pans and giving us a big cheer, it gives us a genuine boost. It’s likely that during any one of those days, many of us will have seen people pass away or had difficult conversations with distressed family members, and the relentless encouragement and support from the public inspires us to keep fighting. But we must remember that it’s not just doctors and nurses who are on the ‘frontline’. Many of our colleagues in the wider NHS family have adjusted their usual working pattern, through picking up extra shifts or filling in for those who are ill themselves. From health care assistants to porters, clerks to pharmacists, every single member of the NHS is truly deserving of our support. And I’m very proud to be a part of it.
A 21-year-old student at Liverpool University who recovered from Covid-19 after being given artificial breathing support has started running again - just a week after leaving hospital
Lucy Patterson recorded a video message to thank staff at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, and to encourage people to seek help if they need it.
Lucy, who is studying Zoology, became unwell early in the lockdown and, as her health worsened, she called her GP who urged her to go to A&E.
Lucy said: ‘I’ve never been to hospital before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t even pack an overnight bag as I didn’t realise how ill I was.’
Once in hospital, tests confirmed that Lucy had Covid-19 and to get oxygen into her lungs to help her breathe, it was decided she needed to be put on to a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.
Lucy said: ‘Explaining how poorly I was to my mum by video call was really hard. I was so upset and scared. This was probably my lowest point as it left me wondering when I would next speak to her again.
‘Emily, one of the nurses, cheered me up by surprising me with treats and some new pyjamas the team had bought for me. I was so overwhelmed by this kind gesture.
‘Everyone was amazing, the care was excellent but it was the little things that meant the most. Their smiles may have been hidden behind facemasks but I could feel them through everything the nurses and doctors did for me. Thanks to everyone for making a scary situation far less scary and getting me back to feeling myself again.’
Samantha Parker, ward manager on 3X at the Royal said: ‘Everyone is delighted to hear how well Lucy is doing now she is not just back on her feet, but literally back up and running.
‘We appreciate just how uncertain and worrying a time it can be for patients with Covid-19. Across the Trust we are all working hard not just on treating and caring for our patients, but also supporting them away from their families and friends.
‘Little treats such as pyjamas are a great way to boost a patient and we’re happy it cheered Lucy up. It was really positive that Lucy was also able to video call her mum during her stay.
For those patients who do not have the technology to support this we have introduced virtual visiting with tablets, so that patients are able to speak to their loved ones.’
Jessica Hamilton-Muller is expecting her first child and has spent the last three months of her pregnancy in lockdown
There are so many milestones during a pregnancy, from the longest two minutes of your life when you take the home testing kit, to the 12-week scan, announcing the news to family and friends, finding out the sex of the baby (we’re having a boy) and an assortment of apps which allow you to celebrate the baby’s growth on a weekly basis - it’s the size of a grape, then a date, then a fig!
One milestone no mum-to-be expects is a global pandemic, but at 36 weeks pregnant (watermelon, in case you were wondering) that’s where we found ourselves. Things seemed to happen so rapidly. Not long ago our office was full of talk about Covid-19, posters went up about washing your hands and keeping safe. I remember wondering if it was all really necessary and thinking how much I’d miss my colleagues and the build-up to maternity leave if we were told to work from home.
But as the news progressed and things became more serious, the office was closed and a week later the UK was put on lockdown. Pregnant women were advised to self-isolate for 12 weeks - the remainder of my pregnancy. The rolling news didn’t help our anxiety levels, for six weeks my midwife appointments were done over the phone to minimise the risk of infection. We have missed our families terribly and we were told to prepare for the possibility that I might not be allowed a birthing partner when I went into labour. All this caused tears and sleepless nights but there have been positives, too.
Friends have given us so many second-hand baby clothes, nappies and things for my hospital bag I wasn’t able to get out and buy myself. Our families have been amazingly supportive and have reassured me if we are still in lockdown or self-isolating when the baby is born, they’ll come to the window to see our new arrival until they can hold him themselves.
And my last midwife appointment with a healthcare professional, in full PPE, was wonderful; she made me feel completely at ease and reassured me about so many worries. Although there are no guarantees about how the final few weeks of pregnancy will go, are there ever really many guarantees in life? I still feel incredibly lucky to be pregnant and hopefully, as a result of this pandemic the world our son is born into will be that little bit kinder and more appreciative of the simple things than it was before.
THE HOMELESS CHARITY
A group of homeless people in Burnley are being housed and helped through the lockdown by the charity Gateway
We are all now familiar with the ‘stay home, stay safe’ message, but for people living on the streets, social distancing can be almost impossible.
Rates of homelessness and domestic violence have risen during the lockdown and groups and charities supporting the homeless across the county have had to re-shape their services to meet the challenges of the lockdown.
One such charity is Gateway in Burnley which offers 30 self-contained flats and provides opportunities for vulnerable and homeless people to develop their skills and employability, and get the support they need to move on to permanent accommodation.
Homelessness service manager Kate Cunliffe said: ‘We offer 24-hour support to people with a range of issues. Some people have had more than 10 years on the streets and to come and accept help is a huge step for them to take but if any group of people has resilience, this is it.
‘We are dealing with people who have nowhere else to go and need safe accommodation. Relationships are under strain with people spending so much time with their families and we are seeing a rise in domestic violence and homelessness rates have increased during the pandemic.
‘We have war veterans with PTSD, grandparents, younger people, a whole range, and we have been able to continue supporting them face-to-face.
‘Over half the team who work here are in active recovery and have personal experience of drug and alcohol treatments, sleeping rough and the prison system, so they can really understand what people are going through.’
The Gateway centre is operated by the Calico Group and they have increased the number of support sessions as a result of the pandemic, helping to reassure residents at a time of heightened anxiety.
Support staff have also been working with clients to devise individual action plans, helping them prepare for a range of scenarios, such as self-isolating.
‘We have had to do some re-shaping of our services,’ Kate added. ‘It has highlighted the beauty of us being able to offer privacy and facilities even if people need to self-isolate. We are giving daily bulletins to help them understand what is being asked of them - some are struggling to adapt but others are helping and that gives some purpose to their daily life.
‘One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen was our residents clapping for the key workers, including our own staff.’
A young girl in the Ribble Valley was so moved by news reports about the pandemic she began fundraising to thank NHS staff
When little Hollie Nestor saw news reports about how hospitals are coping in the lockdown, she was determined to help. ‘I was watching the news on tv with Mummy and Daddy and I wanted to join in and to do something kind to help from home,’ she said. ‘I asked my mum to put something on her Facebook page about raising a bit of money. My first target was £100 but it went way over that.
‘I wanted to collect some food so we put a box in the garden for donations and we ended up with two full boxes, more than 100 things. Our neighbours in Brockhall Village have been really kind with their donations of toiletries, snacks and sweet treats to help keep the NHS heroes going on their shifts.
‘We have now raised more than £2,000 and we’re going to buy handcreams for the NHS staff and give the rest of the money to charities. I just want to raise as much as possible now so we will keep going.’ Hollie, a pupil at St Leonards School in Langho, has also been selling toys, books and dvds she’s grown out of and items from the care boxes full of food, drinks, toiletries and treats for the workers are now being distributed to hospital wards across Lancashire via the hospital charity.
Hollie celebrated her ninth birthday at the end of April and her brother Theo turned four just as the lockdown began. Mum Carrie said: ‘It’s been a memorable time for us all but we’re determined to find the positives if we can. ‘We are so incredibly proud of Hollie. She is certainly on a mission to help our heroes and we can’t thank everyone enough who has supported her so far with their very kind donations; whether that was donating funds online or for leaving items on our doorstep for Hollie to use in her care boxes.’
To support Hollie in her fundraising efforts, donate via the Facebook fundraising page: facebook.com/donate/635570990600196/?fundraiser_source=fundraiser_shortcuts
Melanie James from Blackpool is a live-in carer for her ex-husband. She is using the lockdown to learn new skills
Melanie and Ron met in 1989 and knew within weeks they would get married. They tied the knot six months later at Oldham Register Office. ‘We felt we’d known each other all our lives,’ Melanie said.
Ron was a taxi driver in Manchester and Melanie added: ‘We had a lovely life - a young daughter, three holidays a year, a nice house, nice car. We had the life a lot of people wanted.’
But everything changed when a passenger put a gun to Ron’s head while he was at the wheel. ‘He thought he was going to die,’ Melanie said. ‘But the lad started laughing and probably never thought about it again. It changed our lives. Ron’s personality changed, he became really quite nasty, rude and withdrawn. He became a person I didn’t know.’
They spent a couple of years living in Spain before moving to Blackpool and deciding to separate. ‘About six months after we separated, our daughter visited him and came home crying, saying he wasn’t looking after himself - not eating properly or washing - so I went to see him.
‘He was a wonderful husband and to see a friend in that position was very upsetting. I couldn’t leave him like that, even though it wasn’t necessarily the right thing for me. I saw it as helping a friend and I didn’t see it as a long-term thing. That was in 2008.’
Ron, who is now 63, has depression, arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and months later Melanie moved back in as his carer. The day before the lockdown began she was told she was being nominated for the Carer of the Year award by Blackpool Carers’ Centre.
Before the lockdown, she was a regular at the centre where she took courses and was a member of groups. ‘They have been a godsend,’ she said. ‘It’s an amazing place and it’s because of them I’m getting through this.
‘The lockdown hasn’t meant any changes for Ron, but I’ve made changes. I’m trying to keep the atmosphere up and to put a positive spin on everything and that does me good as well. I tell him it won’t be like this forever and try to talk about life after lockdown.
‘I don’t know where this inner strength has come from. I have mental health issues myself and I’ve had two breakdowns in the last couple of years but I have a lot of hope. I think that’s based on a fear of going back to where I was.’
Through the Carers’ Centre she has gained qualifications in mental health and hopes to become a mentor for people with mental health problems.‘I’m trying to keep my mind active, so I’m doing more courses during the lockdown,’ said Melanie.
‘If I can do this, anyone can. I was in the depths of despair and didn’t want the next day to come. ‘But I am seeing this as a time of new beginnings and hope. There will be debris to clear away, but I’m looking at it as a time of opportunities.’
Victoria Johnston is one of more than 20,000 former NHS staff who have answered the call to return to help fight the pandemic
Victoria Johnston spent 23 years in A&E departments across Lancashire before she retired in 2018.
She and her husband Bill run the Canal Turn pub at Carnforth and she has a floristry business, but as the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak became more apparent, she knew she wanted to go back to nursing.
‘The pub was shut and I wanted to do something to help,’ she said. ‘I’ve been through lots in my nursing career, but I’ve never seen anything like this. It is very, very scary for a lot of people - including the medical teams – but once the severity of the outbreak became apparent, it was the natural decision for me, and lots of other people in a similar situation, to make.’
She is now part of a team who visit patients who are self-isolating at home and she added: ‘It feels like I have got a purpose. I’m giving something back to the community.
‘I had two years out of nursing, but it feels like I’ve never been away. Your training takes over at times like this and you know you’ve just got to get on with it.
‘I turn up in my flower van and put all my PPE on – it’s quite entertaining for people, especially when it’s windy – then after the visit, it all goes in one of my old flower bins. We’re not in the full respiratory PPE, so it’s more a matter of protecting patients from us and so far we seem to be ok for PPE.
But I had a workman in a van pull up alongside me when I was getting ready for an appointment and he asked if I could give him a mask. I had to explain that’s not what we do.
‘It can be quite emotional when the neighbours are out applauding and looking at me. I’m out there clapping for the key workers in shops and in the community but it is quite humbling and embarrassing. I’m just going out and doing a job. I’m not in the frontline.
‘It is nice that key workers – not just in the NHS, but in shops and schools and everywhere else – are being appreciated.
‘I think this outbreak may change the shape of how we work in the future and change the face of the NHS. Everyone seems to have become more flexible
‘I will be going back and doing shifts in A&E in Lancaster when I’m needed.’
THE TRANSPLANT PATIENT
Fez Awan has been self-isolating at home in Blackburn since early March as he waits for his third kidney transplant
Fez Awan has not been further than his garden gate since the first week in March. He was one of the 1.5m people identified as being extremely vulnerable and has been self-isolating since before the lockdown began.
The 34-year-old, born with renal failure, was just three years old when he had his first kidney transplant operation.
‘That lasted about ten years and when I was about 13 or 14 I was on dialysis at home and my father decided to do a live donation, so in May 2000 I received my father’s kidney,’ he said.
‘That lasted about 12 or 13 years and now I’m waiting for my third transplant.
‘You never know how long you will be waiting for a transplant because it depends when an organ becomes available. It tends to be a longer wait for me because the rates of donation are lower in the BAME communities so finding a match becomes harder.’
Fez is part of the Kidney Research UK patient group called Kidney Voice and is a volunteer patient ambassador at his local Kidney Patient Association which covers Lancashire and South Cumbria, and for the national NHS Blood and Transplant service. But all this work is currently on hold.
‘I miss being part of that,’ he said. ‘I think people feel it’s the simple pleasures in life which mean the most. Even food shopping used to be an event but now I can’t go.
‘It has been scary during the lockdown, seeing the numbers of cases going higher and higher - there has been a lot to take in and it can get quite stressful when you’re trying to work out what to do and what not to do.
‘I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say I feel like I’m going a bit stir crazy with staying indoors, but I understand the importance of it,’ he said. ‘Self-isolating is peace of mind that I am safe, which is a positive. My mantra is ‘this too shall pass’.’
Fez lives with his mother and brother, but has spent most of the last few weeks exercising, watching tv and playing video games in his bedroom. He is on nocturnal dialysis and knows he is lucky that he can do this in the safety of his own home.
At meal times he sits apart to keep interaction to a minimum and he added: ‘My mum and brother worry about me, but we’re also worried about the elders in the family, my grandma and aunties and family elsewhere. My brother and sister-in-law live in Dubai and they’re expecting a baby during the lockdown, so that’s worrying as well. We’ve done a lot of video calling, but when the lockdown is over I’m looking forward to seeing family properly.’
Religious leaders of all faiths have helped their communities through religious festivals and everyday challenges
For two East Lancashire clergy, Fr Alex Frost, the Vicar of St Matthew with Holy Trinity and Pastor Mick Fleming of Church on the Street Ministry, both in Burnley, Covid-19 has been an exceptionally challenging but also highly rewarding period. Fr Alex and Pastor Mick have been ecumenically collaborating in a foodbank partnership providing food parcels to some of the most vulnerable people in the town and its surrounding villages.
Fr Alex said: ‘During the Lent and Easter period and beyond we felt compelled to ensure that, in this time of great need, the most vulnerable people won’t be forgotten. Easter was a strange season this year as we had to be adventurous in our thinking and application in our ministry. We weren’t able to be in our churches so we reached out to our congregations and the wider community through social media platforms.’
Pastor Mick added: ‘It’s been challenging not to physically worship with our communities, but we’ve been presented with an opportunity to live out the gospel and feed the homeless in many different ways.’ The people of Burnley have responded in abundance with financial donations and gifts of food to help Church on the Street Ministry provide for people who are going through difficult times.
Pastor Mick said: ‘The generosity of the people in East Lancashire brings tears to your eyes. Whenever we have felt like we were running out, food supplies have been forthcoming, along with offers of volunteers to help with sorting and distributing the parcels in this part of Lancashire; which is both deeply humbling and also wonderfully inspiring.’
Fr Alex added: ‘So many local businesses have come on board to support us and Lancashire-based Warburton bakeries have been incredible with twice weekly free deliveries of bread for which we are extremely grateful.’ As the need for foodbank provisions continues to grow in East Lancashire, both Fr Alex and Pastor Mick plan to keep providing support as long as possible.
Life in lockdown is dramatically different for teachers and pupils and one school in Fleetwood is using technology to broadcast lessons across the world
Few groups have been as severely affected by the lockdown as staff and pupils at schools and colleges. Even for those children of key workers who are still attending school, life is very different with near-empty classrooms and eerily quiet corridors. But most are working from home, with kitchen tables and bedroom floors standing in for school desks.
But pupils at one Lancashire school are logging on to virtual lessons from the other side of the world. Rossall School at Fleetwood has pupils from 40 countries and many have returned home to be with families during the lockdown.
Head of business Sharon Wright said: ‘I’ve never known anything like this in 26 years as a teacher, but the school has prepared well and has been able to react quickly and positively.
‘We know we are very fortunate and that lots of schools face more challenging situations than we do and there are groups of pupils who will have found the lockdown very hard indeed.’
The school has delivered thousands of online lessons and has launched an online diploma, a Saturday morning cookery show, online performing arts showcases, and has continued to host assemblies and sports activities.
And Sharon, who now leads lessons from her dining table, added: ‘One of the hardest things for me was not seeing the students, I felt quite bereft. A big part of teaching is the relationship with the students and to not be able to sit with a pupil and explain a concept is hard.
‘But the online lessons are going well. We have almost 100% per cent attendance even though students are all over the world and we are still able to assess work and give feedback. The engagement of the students has been incredible. But I can’t wait to get back to the classroom proper.’
If you have an interesting story to tell from your time in lockdown, email firstname.lastname@example.org.