'I am begging you to act now': A young doctor's powerful plea for the public to keep their distance

KATIE is a young doctor in a London hospital. This is her account - in a long email sent early on Monday morning - of what it is like helping those with Covid-19. She is crystal clear about what all of us must do to help her and her colleagues and she makes a plea to any relevant company or entrepreneur to supply mobile phones for free to patients isolated from their families. The subject line of her email was “cherry red clogs”.

Many firsts on Sunday, one of which is sending an email that may be forwarded to people I don't know, but here goes.

Apologies first, that this is likely to be somewhat incoherent and is repeating information that I have sent to some of you already.

I qualified as a doctor in 2017.

I did a night shift on Thursday, and went back to work on Sunday.

I couldn't have imagined what I was coming back to.

I was one of the most blasé about coronavirus a couple of weeks ago.

But after today I feel a searing sense of shame that I did not do more earlier to furnish people with the information they desperately need to know about this virus.

This is a terrible illness.

It affects people of my age (32), without underlying health conditions, so severely that many have needed hospitalisation.

And it is a fatal illness for many people who are older and/or have underlying health conditions.

Staff are working under hug pressure at hospitals. Credit: PA

We are still in the very early days of dealing with coronavirus, and it is a steep learning curve for all of us.

We are working under huge pressures in ways that are changing as we speak.

I am begging you to act now.

Challenge any behaviour that is dangerous.

As anyone who knows me can tell you, writing this email is an act of supreme discomfort for me, and I have been up since 5am.

If I can do it so can you.

Challenge young people who think they won't become ill, or that it doesn’t matter if they do.

People today have been out infecting others, some of whom will die needlessly.

If they themselves don't become seriously ill, they are potentially contributing to the death of somebody the age of their parents.

This is through a tragic lack of accurate information, which you can help to combat.

Unnecessary social contact means this: does my life depend on this social contact?

I make no claim at all to be a public health expert, but this is the advice that I have given to my family and those I love based on what I am seeing.

  • What is social distancing?

We are trying to keep our spirits up but this makes it difficult.

So we all need to focus on what we CAN do.

I work in an absolutely fantastic hospital.

My colleagues never cease to amaze me – they are incredibly skilled, kind, compassionate, and they will look after you and your loved ones with care and dignity.

We are adapting with great speed, and in another day, another week, another two weeks, we will be better at this.

We will have more testing, and better information about this disease.

But it will be very hard for us if we are inundated with patients who have been needlessly infected because people did not have the information they needed at the right time.

Do not panic.

We will look after you.

But what you can do is to please listen to those of us who are working on the wards, accept our apologies if we (I speak for myself) haven't acted fast enough, and make this your mission.

This is hard enough for us in the hospitals as it is.

I do not want to spend precious moments crying in the loo because I am being sent messages by my family and friends saying there are huge crowds on Clapham Common and Highbury Fields.

It's hard enough as it is in hospitals, Katie says. Credit: PA

I am speaking in an individual capacity, and have various ideas for how to help that I thought I would share.

My thinking on this situation has changed very rapidly and I don’t know how sensible these thoughts are, but maybe this is something people wiser than myself could think about.

  • Access to phones

We currently have a policy of no visitors to most of the hospital that I work in.

I imagine this is likely to become a widespread policy.

Because of this, it is important that any Covid-19 patient has access to a charged phone so that they can be in communication with their relatives.

I cannot do anything about this personally but there clearly are people who can.

I imagine we will need more basic phones as well as smart phones, as some people find these difficult to use, and cannot learn instantly.

  • Respect hospital visiting rules

Please encourage people you know to respect hospital visiting policies.

We are finding it heart-breaking enough to exclude people, but if we have to resort to thinking about contacting hospital security to remove someone it will be even more terrible.

Please don't put us in this position.

Everybody is in the same boat and we will look after your relative with the dignity and compassion with which would want our own relatives to be looked after.

Many people queuing outside a Tesco store despite social distancing advice. Credit: PA
  • Minimise contact

We are trialling minimising our contact by having one doctor going into a room with another of us documenting outside the room listening to the assessment on the phone, and experimenting with phoning patients where this does not compromise care.

My phone has gone flat countless times today.

I will leave this thought with you as I don't think I can realistically do anything about this.

  • Music for patients

I looked after a man in 2017 who died listening to extraordinarily beautiful music on Radio 3 – I think he died listening to an old recording of Beatrice Harrison playing the Elgar Cello Concerto with the LSO.

I am going to be at work and have no way to facilitate this, but perhaps there is a way for those in hospital or dying to be able to listen to music if they want to.

I realise this is not everybody's taste in music.

In my experience there is massive variation in access to TVs/radios/phones in different hospitals.

NHS staff are working hard s the coronavirus spreads. Credit: PA

I want to conclude by saying how extraordinarily fortunate I feel.

I am not religious, but I feel blessed.

I work wearing a pair of cherry red clogs lent to me by my most stylish friend (bar one).

Pathetic as it sounds, I am cheered up every time I see them poking out of my scrubs.

I have a freezer full of food cooked for me by my amazing cousin A, and by my father (which I feel somewhat less enthusiastic about, but am equally grateful for).

I am staying in a flat lent to me by my generous aunt and uncle.

I am driving to work in a car lent to me by my parents.

Every day I write a note asking not to be given a parking ticket and put it in the windscreen. And I have not received a parking ticket.

The generosity of my family and friends knows no bounds.

I drive to work and home talking to friends and family, or listening to playlists that they have sent me.

I work with some of the best people I know, who are putting their lives at risk unquestioningly (today, notably, a D and B, an E, an O and another K, some working across different trusts and in the community).

I have never felt so grateful to be alive.

If medicine has taught me anything, it is that life is precious.

Please do something that is uncomfortable for you, if it means that you might help somebody else.

I am doing something I find excruciatingly embarrassing.

I could mention so many people but am going to head for bed.

Know that I am thinking of the people I love as I sit in my empty flat, having banished a couple of wonderful and motley house guests.

Look after all the doctors, nurses, managers, administrators, porters, drivers etc that you know.

I am relatively safe.

I have far less contact with patients than nursing staff do.

Think of people endlessly deep-cleaning rooms used to look after Covid-19 patients.

I will leave you with this terrible photograph of my cherry red clogs, knowing that it will horrify their stylish owner, and the thought that there is plenty of food, and this is an opportunity for us all to come to terms with the fact that we eat too much.

Many of us, at any rate.

Lots of love


PS somebody just left a microwave on my doorstep!

Also I am desperate to spread the word.

I hope this is a call to arms, but please don't reply because I will be at work this week.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know