Who are the women leading the Covid-19 fight in the Midlands?

Karen Miles - Bus driver, East Midlands

Credit: Trent Barton

The hardest bit is actually the end of the day when I go home. I keep myself safe, but you don't know who's travelled on the bus, so you don't know if you're taking Covid home.

We've worked longer hours, more days, and I've hardly had any contact with the grandchildren - you don't know what you're carrying, and I'd hate to pass anything on.

I wanted to keep working, that's who I am. I've always thought about other people. They need to get to work, so it's just supporting our communities really - the Red Arrow route serves the QMC so we need to get staff there.

That's what's made it worthwhile, giving people some kind of normality, as well as supporting colleagues that have struggled. Just here to listen and help really.

I think my company has been very supportive; we've had PPE, and there's always someone you can talk to, and we get things sorted between us.

My family have been really proud that I've worked through. I've got friends that have carried on working too, at the hospitals.

I can't wait for us all to be back together and have a right good moan about it all.

Fliss Pass - Nurse, University Hospitals of Derby and Burton

Credit: Fliss Pass/University Hospitals of Derby and Burton

A patient, who I'll call Sue, had said that she didn’t want to be resuscitated or go to the Intensive Care Unit.

Sue asked me what was going to happen and asked me to be honest with her. How could I tell someone they were going to die?

I held Sue’s hand tight and explained that if her breathing got any worse, her body wouldn’t be able to cope. Sue looked petrified. I held her hand and just looked down.

Sue asked me what it’s like when you die.

I told Sue I didn’t know, but I told her what I like to think happens. When you die, you go to heaven and meet all the people you have lost during your life. No more pain or suffering. It’s lovely and warm, and you can eat all the cake you want.

Sue smiled at my response. The chaplain arrived and we listened to her representation of the afterlife. She explained that she believed in God and that she believes our names are written on the palms of God's hands, and He loves us all dearly.

A doctor had arranged a Zoom call, so Sue’s family could say bye to their mum.

The pain and tears you could see in their eyes was absolutely heart-breaking. You could tell the family didn’t want to end the call, but Sue said she had had enough.

We gave Sue some more medication to help ease her breathing. I promised Sue I would not leave her side. I said if your body is telling you to sleep, go to sleep – all the while knowing full well she would die if she did.

As she took her last breaths, I told her she was one of the bravest ladies I had met. Throughout my whole time with Sue, she never shed a tear. After her last breath, I let go of her hand and said goodbye.

I am used to people dying and talking about death, but this broke me. Never have I told someone their death was soon to come, and a couple of hours later see them take their last breath.

Well, Sue, I felt honoured to care for you and will never forget the conversation we had about heaven. I hope you’re up there now eating loads of cake.

Rest in peace you absolutely amazing lady.

Dr Samara Afzal - GP, Dudley

Credit: Dr Samara Afzal

I was quite close to one of my patients. He was an elderly man who was a carer for his wife. He used to see me nearly every week and we'd have a chat.

He got Covid and he didn't get to see his relatives at the end. During their last phone call, he asked his daughter to thank me for everything I'd done. That night I was crying and crying, thinking 'Why's he gone? I didn't get to say goodbye to him.'

He had all sorts of medical problems that we were getting him through, and then Covid came and took him.

It's been stressful being there for patients while we're dealing with our own personal lives. I have a daughter who has asthma so that's been a worry. I feel like I hardly see her, working five or six full days a week.

For some people their GP is their only social contact, and the only person they can seek help from.

We can make a difference, particularly with misconceptions about the vaccine. I've been explaining the process to people who are not even in my practice, and we are now seeing a higher uptake, which is rewarding.

I've just had my annual appraisal and I've been told I need to take some leave before I burn out - so that's the plan in the Easter holidays!

Dr Naomi Forrester-Soto - Virologist, Keele University

Credit: Dr Naomi Forrester-Soto

The most rewarding part of the last few months has been helping people to understand science better.

I study how viruses produce variants, and before the pandemic I'd spend most days in the lab, applying for research grants, or teaching students. I still do all that, but last March I did my first interview for Radio Stoke, and it hasn't stopped since.

I do a weekly phone in, and I'm very proud of how people's questions have become more informed over the year. They had an immunologist guest, and apparently he was really surprised at the scientific knowledge of the listeners, and the presenter was able to say 'That's because Naomi's been on.'

Sometimes I don't do a good job, and I use too much jargon, but my goal is to calm people down, and give them a bit of scientific knowledge, so it all seems less scary and they can cut through the crazy headlines or scaremongering.

I would love for anyone to get excited about science. We do need more representation - all races, all genders. If scientists don't represent the diversity of the globe, we may get led down the wrong path.

Historically, there have been some barriers to women getting into science, although things are changing. Science is very demanding, and favours those who are able to give all their lives to it, without, say, caring responsibilities. I'm not sure how we get round that, without changing the whole culture of science.

I hope that my work will help us to design new anti-viral drugs or technologies. I work with mosquitos, which are actually one of the most deadly animals in the world, in terms of the diseases they carry.

Most people get into science because they want to help!

Mel Kerr - Staff Nurse, Lincolnshire

Credit: Mel Kerr

I have what I call 'a nurse's hat.' I put that on and emotionally the wall goes up. I'm quite good at keeping my emotions to myself, and finding time later in the day to sit down and have some 'me time.'

During the pandemic it's been practically impossible to do that, so when we had our own family loss in September, it broke me. For a time I really struggled, and I'm still struggling.

We are human and when we're faced with high death tolls, and really complex, emotionally challenging situations, that affects us too. But it can be easy to forget, and I think we're just as bad at forgetting that actually.

We always put our patients first and often neglect ourselves.

When you see patients who do improve, and then say 'thank you', that is the best feeling in the world, there is honestly no way I could describe it.

I know my dad and my fiancé are both incredibly proud of what we're doing. When I got the vaccine my dad was bragging about that, 'My daughter, one of the first, doing her part!' It's so lovely to have that support, and I need it every day.

The thing I'm looking forward to most? Giving people a hug.

Alison Challenger - Director of Public Health, Nottingham

Credit: Alison Challenger

You learn a lot about yourself when you have to respond to a global crisis.

I don't think I'll ever be the same again. I've learnt so much about people, relationships, and the importance of our communities in coming through this.

A Director of Public Health works with the council, NHS, and volunteers to try to improve people's health - that includes diet, smoking, air quality, and of course pandemic planning.

My job changed overnight when we had a case of Coronavirus here linked to China. We had to respond - but we didn't know quite what we were responding to. We'd always anticipated a flu pandemic, so those were the plans we used.

I had to lead the team, work out what needed doing in what order, and who was doing it.

We had the highest rates in the country back in October. It was a worry. We know that if we have high rates of Covid in our community, two or three weeks down the line our hospitals will feel the impact.

I take my inspiration from some very strong women leaders in public health. They've really helped us come together as a public health community, but I have learnt from all of the directors, men and women.

Health affects everyone and we've seen a big interest in people wanting to be involved. It's an extremely fascinating and interesting area of work, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

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