Humans of Covid-19: Online project shares stories of frontline workers

From a couple working on a ward side by side, to a doctor reading out family text messages to a dying Covid-19 patient, key workers have been sharing their stories on the frontlines of the pandemic to show the public they are “not a statistic”.

Inspired by a similar online project called ‘Humans of New York’, the Humans of Covid-19 Instagram account was started in April by junior doctor Benjamin Rosen, after he became frustrated at the public’s reaction to social distancing.

Ever since, it has been sharing the experiences of doctors, drivers and porters throughout the health crisis through direct interviews.

The project has grown throughout the pandemic, and now more than 120 people have been interviewed by a team of four from across the country.

“I was quite frustrated with what I’d been seeing during my time off, how people weren’t socially distancing,” said Dr Rosen, who works in a busy London A&E department.

He told the PA news agency: “I was frustrated that no matter how many facts, or how much reason we were trying to use, to inform and convince people that this was really happening, that it was being ignored anyway, and society had almost moved on beyond caring what experts said, or what politicians said.

“I thought, here we all are, surrounded by this and we have these difficult experiences that we are going through right now.”

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"There was this lady with covid who was nearing the end of her life on the ward I was on. I answered a call to the ward from her daughter saying that they hadn’t heard from her for a day and were wondering if I could check her phone was on.⁣ ⁣ I went into the side room and turned on the phone and there was a buzz of text messages coming through and notifications from her family and friends. ⁣ ⁣ She was weak and didn’t have the strength to hold the phone and read the messages. I asked if she wanted me to read the messages and she nodded.⁣ ⁣ ‘I love you’⁣ ‘I’m so proud of you’ ⁣ ‘You’re so strong and we love you so much’. ⁣ ‘The kids miss you and want hugs from grandma’⁣ ⁣ My voice wobbled behind my mask as I read text after lovely text out loud and her mouth formed a weak smile. We FaceTimed her family afterwards and though she didn’t have the energy to speak she smiled seeing their faces and hearing their voices.⁣ ⁣ That evening all I wanted to do was to tell all my friends and family that I loved them and that I was so proud of them and that they really mattered in this world. ⁣ ⁣ I don’t think people tell other people that enough."⁣ ⁣ @annefitzg⁣ ⁣ #doctor #medicine #healthcare #notallheroeswearcapes #nhsstaff #nhsbirthday #thankyounhs #fronlineworker #facetime #doctorsofinstagram #family #frontlineheroes #nhsheroes #story #holdstill

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He immediately began interviewing his colleagues and has since discovered that “frontline workers are extraordinary storytellers”.

One of the latest interviews features his close friend Cameron, who talked about working alongside his girlfriend Antonia in a resuscitation bay during the pandemic.

Dr Rosen said: “It wasn’t always the plan, but he decided to talk about her and I thought it was wonderful.

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“She asked me out! I’ll always be perpetually surprised about that.⁣ ⁣ That evening we walked up pall mall to Buckingham palace. It was the 9th of February and dark and cold but not raining. It was empty, it was just us. And possibly Liz, but I’m not sure if she was in. I was thinking “man this is so romantic, I should kiss her.” But then I doubted myself and I wasn’t sure she liked me, maybe she was just being nice? So we walked back and got on this packed commuter train home. I go to give her a hug goodbye and there was this pause, and then we kissed.⁣ ⁣ Later that evening she sent me a text saying: “Oh my god, you could have kissed me at Buckingham palace, under the streetlights with no one around! But no, you kissed me over some dude’s laptop as he’s trying to finish off his spreadsheet on a commuter train.” Yea, she asked me out. I love that about her.⁣ ⁣ We moved in together a year later. When we’re on shift together though, we are colleagues first and that’s that. I’m not joking when I say that people are still finding out about it now. But we’ve always said when we get home, you’re allowed to talk about work. You’re allowed to vent and tell someone who really understands.⁣ ⁣ Trying to explain what the Resus bay is like, trying to explain the chaos in A&E during the peak, walking through a department feeling shell-shocked, to someone who wasn’t there is almost impossible. I’ve had an immediate support network in Antonia though because she knew exactly what it’s been like. It’s been so important for me to have my other half work here, to have her shoulder to lean on and I hope that I’ve given her that as best as I can too.⁣ ⁣ I really needed her. I really needed her. More so than I think she will ever realise.” ⁣ ⁣ @camtwopointoh

A post shared by Humans of COVID-19 (@humansofcovid.19) on Aug 22, 2020 at 10:52am PDT

“There is a lot of warmth in a lot of these stories, as well as about ways of coping with all of this adversity. And when I asked him what had been his guiding light, what had got him through, he really had nothing else that he could possibly think of that was more important than his girlfriend who had been with him, side by side, throughout the whole thing.

“I think to a slightly lesser extent, this is how we feel about each other at work, we’ve become so close as colleagues.”

It is currently unclear how many health and social workers have died during the pandemic, however Amnesty International estimates the UK is among the countries to have recorded the highest number of Covid-19 health worker deaths, at more than 540 in England and Wales.

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"I was working in Resus and already, from the beginning I had an elderly patient who I knew wouldn’t survive. Minutes later we were informed that an ambulance crew were bringing in a child who had already died. Because it had happened at home, the ambulance crew still needed to bring them into hospital where they were taken into the family room next to Resus. Suddenly, I was in this situation where on one side of the door there was this child and on the other side I was trying my best to care for this elderly woman who needed urgent palliative care. ⁣ ⁣ That night, I couldn’t even tell you how many ‘blue calls’ were brought into resus – all with covid and difficulty in breathing. I'd never experienced anything like it but you just had to keep going. There wasn't time to take a break to process what was going on. ⁣ ⁣ So I was looking after the elderly woman while also juggling another patient with covid who kept needing more oxygen, all while overhearing the family of this child crying on the other side of the door.⁣ ⁣ I didn’t know how to disconnect from all these emotions. I was hurting so much for all these people. When I went into a store room to get something I just burst into tears. Then I was just like: “ok, you’ve had your cry now, you’ve got to get on with it because there are patients who need you”. So I went back in and did my best and kept going. ⁣ ⁣ Just because some people are dying, that doesn’t mean your nursing care stops there. In some ways, that’s where it really begins. I made sure that when my elderly patient died, she wasn’t in pain and I gave her the dignity she deserved." ⁣ ⁣ @stephx_london⁣ ⁣ (All patient details changed to protect confidentiality)⁣ ⁣ #stayhome #nhs #frontlineworkers #humansofcovid #nhsworker #notallheroeswearcapes #nursing #nhsworkers #nhsheroes #nhsstaff #healthcareprofessionals #savelives #thankyounhs #healthcare #nurse #holdstill #medicine

A post shared by Humans of COVID-19 (@humansofcovid.19) on Jun 14, 2020 at 11:22am PDT

Dr Rosen, who had the virus himself in April, said: “I think stories like that really show the added cost of Covid — the morbidity, and the mortality. There is also how taxing this can be on the mental health of healthcare professionals, and that for me stood out in a huge way.”

He wanted to use the page to remind the public that the pandemic is far from over.

He has shared stories including that of a doctor who cried in a store cupboard after a difficult night dealing with dying patients.

“A lot of the most difficult things about Covid have not changed at all. We are still seeing patients, thankfully in fewer numbers, but we still don’t have a significant treatment for these patients,” he said.

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I remember my mum suggested it first: “Are you going to be a nurse?” and I was like: “Hell no, I’m not going to be a nurse.” It had been working in a boots, not doing much with my masters in pharmacology, but I’d never cared for anyone in that way before.⁣ ⁣ I’m so grateful to my mum for asking me to try. I have 5 sisters back in Nigeria who used to gang up on me, and they all have birthdays between May and July so I’ve got to think of five female presents. It’s not easy at all, to impress all of them, but I do it. I wonder if I wanted to be more in a “male role” because I was surrounded by women. The kind of friends I had at the time too.. it’s funny. I never told them I was in nursing for the whole first year of my course. I wasn’t proud of it. But then I was like: “who am I kidding? I really like what I’m doing, why should I be shy about it?” I had better prospects.⁣ ⁣ To be honest, when I told my friends they took it so lightly, and loads of them were impressed and wanted to find out how to get into it. I was wondering to myself why I’d been hiding it from them all this time. They watch 24h in A&E and are like: “is that actually how it is?” They ask how I cope and I say: “You know what, I get on with it. I love it, it’s fun.” Obviously not fun to see people ill, but it’s so good to see them stabilise. I see the difference and think to myself: “This is what I’m here for.” ⁣ ⁣ I actually got appendicitis on shift in February, one of the doctors diagnosed me even before the blood tests came back. A month later I returned to work and it was like: “Boom, covid.” I was seeing patients and thinking myself – I was where you were one month ago."⁣ ⁣ Andy Young⁣ ⁣ #stayhome #nhs #frontlineworkers #humansofcovid #nhsworker #notallheroeswearcapes #nhsworkers #nhsheroes #nhsstaff #healthcareprofessionals #savelives #thankyounhs #healthcare #nurse #nursing #london #nigeria #nurselife #ed #emergency #medicine

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“We are also completely terrified of a second peak. I think a lot of the emotional stress that goes into fighting a pandemic is not necessarily the situation on the ground, but quite a lot of it is psychological. That feeling in your gut that this is about to get worse and worse. And that never really goes away, even when the peak passes.

“And I am just noticing a lot of exhaustion from colleagues. Not just because of the intensity of the shifts of the past few months, but the gaps we have had to fill.”