28 May 2020

Papeya Dasgupta is a Pharmacy Technician based at Mile End Hospital. In this blog, she talks about the highs and lows of social isolating when you're part of a large household, her own COVID-19 experience and how the Pharmacy team have adapted to the new normal.

The Covid-19 pandemic has truly changed the world. It has changed the way we think and feel about numerous aspects of life. On a deeper level, the pandemic has showed us that tragic side of life in which every single loss of life is grieved, and prayers are sent to console those who have lost their loved ones. Paradoxically, it has also taught us how to cherish life, to truly value our relationships and to enjoy the quieter moments often missed in solitude. 
And this leads us on nicely to the working world …

In this Pandemic, pharmacies have been the heart of trying to keep patients safe, ensuring the safe supply of medicines. Safety for all workers has dictated the new norm of remote working. Working from home was previously the privilege of the lucky few but now it is inclusive to all in these strange times to ensure that the NHS is still moving forward. 

Who would have thought 5 years ago that remote working would be possible in the wonderful world of pharmacy? However, as the team had switched to electronic prescribing long before the pandemic struck its ugly nose into the ordinary scheme of things, the seeds of working remotely in preparation for such an event were already sown. As a service, we are now able to check through all patient charts and order medications when needed. Ordering is done via our internal Prescription Tracking System where each prescription is printed to our central dispensary. Even though the world may have stopped for a short period of time, we made sure that we carried our services on, to serve those in need. 

What has been the most surprising/interesting thing about how we work now?
The greatest surprise about the flexible working model that we now employ is that on a normal working day in the dispensary, we have 10-12 people working at the same time but on staggered shifts, so they are able to adhere to the two metre social distancing guidance. Considering the blatant disregard shown for social distancing in London’s supermarkets and parks, this is a feat in itself! My colleagues and I can be guilty of enjoying a natter at break time, but we have made sure that our tea/lunch breaks are staggered to avoid contact with too many people. We have made this work in a tight space which is the most surprising thing for me.  Although we are still working on how to keep our own stationery to ourselves without it being stolen! Stationery theft is something that will never end … 

Living with a large extended Asian family consisting of nine other people in the same house can be testing during the course of a pandemic. My mum falls into a high-risk category and coming home every day, knowing that I need to be extra careful to not transmit anything from the outside world, is challenging. 

My own experiences of isolation 
When my 6-year-old niece developed a cough, my family and I isolated for 14 days. This is a difficult concept for an extended family to deal with as we needed to shop for essentials and were unable to do so while isolating. Trying to do an online grocery shop was impossible as there were no delivery options.  We had to rely on my extended family and friends to leave all essential shopping outside the family home. We need more than two items of the same product in normal times never mind during a pandemic! This was going to be a problem! Thankfully my niece did not catch the virus but to be on the safe side, we all isolated. However, by having remote access, I could still continue to work from home and continue to care for our patients.

What did I do when the 14 days were over you ask?
Well as a supremely dedicated employee, I was super excited to get back to work (never thought I would say that but if it earns me a promotion, then ah what the heck!). My clothes were folded ready for the next day and I straightened my hair in the morning like the new girl at a new school. I even had a new shiny pencil case ready to tackle the day. Carpe Diem! Or for those who have not seen Dead Poet’s Society (shame on you) Seize the Day was my motto. The period of self-isolation gave me a new perspective on work and life, and I was ready to show my newfound enthusiasm to the rest of the world. My first day back at work felt surreal with all the different measures in place in the department. I can say that I was very impressed with all the signposting, the reference to the maximum amount of people allowed in a room and arrows on the floor in the dispensary to make sure the flow of the dispensary adheres to the 2 metre distance. 

Alas, how short lived it was! On my third day back at work, I developed a cough, thinking this may be hay-fever related. However, the cough did not improve and (quite rightly) I was instantly sent home to isolate (AGAIN). Although I like to be macho at the best of times, the necessity for safety dictated that sending me home was definitely the right thing to do. This time it was much harder as I could not risk anyone else in my household from catching anything from me, so I isolated in my room for 7 days. The hardest 7 days of my life was being in my room, not able to see anyone, having food delivered to my door (which was not Dominoes) and working from my room which put a huge strain on my back because of poor posture. Now I understand why we are always nagged about posture! 

One of the perks of working for the NHS in these times is that I managed to get myself tested within 2 days, and my result came back in another 2 days. What was my result? It was positive and negative. Confused? Well apparently, it came out as both positive and negative which meant borderline positive! Surely positive + negative = negative! No, they said, assume you’re positive. But wait, it’s also negative isn’t it? No, they said. My attempt to entangle them in my thinking and flawless logic was an epic fail. 

The emotions and confusion I went through was something I cannot explain - the fear of being positive and not knowing what other symptoms I may develop in the coming days was far scarier than anything I had experienced before. I was advised to get re-tested as the first result was not clear and so I duly did. A couple of days passed, and I received an email confirming my results…NEGATIVE! It was my 7th day of isolation anyway but the feeling of being out of danger or from passing it to anyone else was such a huge relief.  I ran to my mum and gave her the biggest hug. This was the best feeling. A mother’s hug is the best medicine in the world and knowing that I was currently safe and COVID-free and, most importantly was not a risk of transmitting it to my mum, was such a relief. 

What new skills/tips have I gained?
Surprisingly enough, I have gained new skills in the new remote setting. For example, who would have thought setting up meetings via Microsoft teams would be such a headache! However, fear not, it can be done. I am currently setting up reflective practice sessions for pharmacy staff across all our sites to join. This was something that was impossible to do before as it would require staff from all sites to physically join in the group sessions including staff members based in Luton and Bedford. For practical purposes, it is very difficult for everyone to travel all the way into London but setting up reflective practice enabled the whole pharmacy team including all sites to join in from anywhere. 

What do I think has changed for good?
I think what has changed the most and for good is that staff members and the general public are more aware of the impact it may have if one was to neglect the way you wash hands or sneezing openly without a tissue, how to discard waste and also how to stop spreading germs. Personal hygiene is something that we have all taken for granted in the past but not any longer. And this is a life lesson for us all. 

A parting attempt at an inspirational message ...
The COVID-19 pandemic has truly changed the world but maybe this global situation can change the world for better. This too shall pass, as they say. The curve will flatten. Humanity will survive. But this will only happen if we stick together, help each other and show more empathy. There has been much tragedy and our hearts bleed for those who are suffering. But this is also an event from which the world can recover, learn to be kinder, fairer and more compassionate towards each other. We truly need to believe that something good can come out of this. We must never lose our optimism. Our wonderful NHS has shown how we can be resourceful, innovative and creative in times of crisis. We need to make sure that we support each other, take care of each other and get through this. Because we will! And we will do this with our big extended NHS family. 

Finally, I don’t know if you all have seen or read the amazing poem written by Thomas Roberts, but I will leave you with a couplet from his poem, the Great Realisation. 
 Why does it take a virus to bring people back together?
 Sometimes, you have to get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.
Take care everyone, stay safe, stay strong and……wash your hands!

Papeya Dasgupta 
Pharmacy Technician based at Mile End Hospital