Thursday, 7 May 2020

Somewhere under the rainbow



Here in the UK we are now in our seventh week of lockdown. I have watched the progress of the current coronavirus pandemic with the slightly detached view of a retired scientist. Yes, mistakes have been made and it is easy for me to say so, as I sit here in the semi-isolation of rural Cheshire, 200 miles from London. Whatever we might think, we have to live and cope with the situation as it stands. Hindsight is wonderful, but the decisions, made at the time in general, seemed to be the most appropriate for the circumstances and were made to protect our NHS. Initially husband and I watched the daily press briefing from Downing Street, but after a time it started to feel like a summons to the headmaster's office. The announcements were at times grim and every day the journalists, who are not scientists, seemed to ask the same questions.  Not surprisingly the answers were pretty much the same. What has surprised me has been the patience with which the politicians and scientists have answered these questions on a daily basis.

As someone who started their working life in the NHS I cannot help but wonder what it would have been like had there been a pandemic when I was working in hospital pharmacy. It was forty years ago and I was a new qualified pharmacist in my early twenties. I know that a lot has changed in that time. Then we did not have mobile phones, computers or the internet and people did not travel anything like as much as they do today. So maybe a virus would not have spread as fast as coronavirus has. The intensive care unit (ITU), at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford where I worked, probably had no more than than ten beds. Everything in the unit was far less automated than today and what machines there were, were fairly basic. Occasionally I would visit ITU to check their drugs and I have to say that I found it intimidating.  Medicines would have been important, but of the drugs regularly used today, only a handful would have been available forty years ago. Yes, nearly all of the drugs in common use today had not been discovered or developed then. It would have been very much survival of the fittest. Never the less we thought that we were at the cutting edge. The practice of medicine had moved on in leaps and bounds since the NHS had been set up in 1948. I enjoyed the years that I spent working in hospital pharmacy. The atmosphere in the hospitals that I worked in was aways good. You felt that you were part of a team, although sometimes there appeared to be more than one team. And you just would not be working there if you were not prepared for hard work and some sacrifices. At times it was an eye opener as I experienced and saw things that were disturbing and upsetting. Events that doctors and nurses were trained for, but which pharmacists of my generation were not. But I have to say that it was also very rewarding.

Part of me would still like to be working. It is what I was trained to do. Pharmacists who had retired in the last three years were asked to return to work in preparation for coronavirus arriving here. It is eight years since I retired, which counts me out and it is not as if I had not worked through some difficult times. In the Winter of Discontent I was working at St George's Hospital, Hyde Park Corner - now the Lanesborough Hotel. Without going into detail I can tell you that it was grim. During the swine flu epidemic of 2009/10 I was working in retail pharmacy. There was no PPE in those days. Admittedly swine flu was not as virulent as coronavirus. You just had to hope that you did not get it.

Here in the UK, thanks to the planning of the politicians, scientists and doctors, our NHS has not been overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic in the way that hospitals in some countries have been. There has always been spare capacity. Every patient has had a bed and a ventilator, if needed. It may no longer be the envy of the world, as it once was, but it is doing a pretty good job right now.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Easter Eggs


What a find! And on Easter Sunday of all days. But not the chocolate variety.

Two years ago we ventured out into the garden on Easter Sunday after a very wet period of weather. Our garden was sodden from all of the rain, so we could only work on the beds closest to the cottage. I was trying to tidy up this raised bed, working to the left of the nest, which was well hidden. Suddenly there was a great commotion and just imagine my surprise when a duck emerged from the back of the bed. Then we found the nest with the eggs in it. How on earth had we not noticed a duck in this raised bed?  I see it all of the time from the kitchen window. Well she really blended in very well. So well that it was difficult to see her even when we knew she was there. I did remember coming down into the kitchen one exceedingly wet Saturday morning and finding a large male duck on the patio. There is a pond in the farmer's field at the end of our garden. Often there are ducks and moor hens on the pond, but they never come so close to the cottage. Now we knew what he had been up to!

For the next few weeks we watched the nest like a hawk, in the expectation of seeing the duckings emerge. At the same time we were careful not to disturb the duck who was sitting on the eggs for most of the day. To our disappointment we saw not one single duckling. One morning we found an empty nest. The duck and her ducklings had vanished overnight. We left things untouched for a time, in case she returned, but she didn't. I tidied up the raised bed that she had called home and made sure that she would not return by rearranging some of the plants, so that it would not be so comfortable to  make a nest there again. And it has not happened again, despite the incredibly wet winter that we have just had.

Eggs this year will have to be chocolate. Happy Easter!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Mad as a March hare


Last Monday - March 16 , after the UK Health Secretary's crass announcement on Sunday morning that the over 70s would be expected to self-isolate to protect themselves from Coronavirus, we decided that we had better get ouselves out to do some shopping before even more draconian measures were announced. Our first port of call was the local garden centre. It was quiet -well we don't usually go to the garden centre on a Monday morning. That did not take long. So the next stop was the local Costco for some provisions. As we turned into the access road to Costco the traffic was very heavy. In fact heavier than we had ever seen there. We were soon directed into the car park by marshalls who were directing the traffic. Once in the car park there was really no way out. It was grid locked - not helped by the traffic lights at the end of the access road, which only leads to Costco. We initially thought that we would just go home and come back some other time, but we decided that we might as well go into the store, as strangely parking was not really a problem. However, it was a twenty minute crawl to get into a space.


As we entered the store we were told that they were out of toilet rolls and chicken portions, neither of which were on our shopping list. The tills were busy, but the store itself was reasonably quiet. Everybody seemed to be in the car park. Our aim was to stock up with beer and wine, plus a few other bits and pieces, which we did and by the time we reached the tills the queues had gone. However, the car park was just as bad.


It was another twenty minute crawl to get out of it. By now it was after 12.30 pm and the Jeremy Vine Show was on the car radio. We listened as a succession of indignant seventy somethings complained about the government's instructions to self-isolate. I was aghast at these instructions. My husband was 70 last August. When he hit that milestone, he did not suddenly become a frail, little old man. After weeks of self-isolation I hate to think what state he would be in both mentally and physically. Not to mention my own state of mind! Little did we know that by the end of the day more or less all of us would be in the same boat, as the government introduced restrictions that would affect all of our daily lives.

We realised that we would have to adapt to a different way of life within the restrictions. We watched the Prime Minister's daily briefings and the television news with interest and some trepidation as we heard about selfish individuals panic buying and striping the supermarket shelves bare. So I suppose that husband and I should not have been surprised by what we found, when we went to out local Tesco to do our weekly supermarket shop. The car park was only partly full as usual and there was no queue to get into the store, but once inside it looked like a bomb had hit it with empty aisles and bare shelves. There was a board listing the restricted items. I had a quick look at it and thought we would be alright to buy what we wanted, as there were two of us. Shopping completed we headed to a queueless till, where we were soon informed that we could only have three fruit, three vegetables and one loaf of bread. Of the six vegetables in our trolley which did I want and which one of the two different loaves of bread did I want? I protested that there were two of us, but to the cashier we were one customer and that was that. So to you Tesco, a black mark for allowing customers to panic buy to the point were there was simply almost nothing left for those of us who had stayed at home and obeyed the goverment's instructions. We were horrified. We usually shop once a week and we had only been allowed to buy enough fresh food for two to three days, which would mean shopping two to three times a week instead of once. All when we were supposed to be reducing social contact. This meant playing the supermarkets at their own game. There is a big ASDA about half a mile away, which we had never shopped in, but there is a first time for everything. We took two shopping baskets and split our shop between them, then went through the self service check outs. Success and relief and enough food to last seven days. In the following days I spent a lot of time wondering how to manage this week's shop, if it was going to be as challenging as last weeks had been. On Wednesday I went to the local Sainsburys and was pleasantly surprised to find a quiet and much better stocked store than I had anticipated. Hopefully some of the madness is over. Soon March will be too.

Perhaps I should add that over the last few weeks I had built up our stock of food, especially the freezer, but fresh fruit and vegetables and other perishable items need to be bought regularly.