A Jewish consultant, who volunteered to help lead the fight against coronavirus at Nightingale Hospital, described his experiences on the frontline of the virus.
Dr Jonathan Behar, a consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals, spoke to Jewish News last week just as the 4,000-bed medical facility, built at the ExCel centre in east London last month, is set to be placed on standby.
Dr Behar told of “a very tough and gruelling couple of weeks” as he appeared on the first episode of the JN Podcast. “Normally, I’m a cardiologist. I look after heart problems and specifically heart rhythm problems but that service to a large extent has essentially been put on ice because of the pandemic like most other operations,” he explained.
“Therefore I felt that I’d be really most of use in an environment, even though it’s not well known to me, intensive care, I’m used to looking after sick patients and so I thought I’d be some use, so I put my name forward,” he went on.
Communicating with patients while wearing Personal Protective Equipment [PPE], he said, has been one of the biggest challenges. “The main struggle actually is the PPE, not the supply of it. We’ve been perfectly adequately supplied with it. The problem is actually doing a 12 and a half, 13 hour shift, with it on,” he said.
“All lines of communication are completely different when you are in a mask, when you’ve got a hairnet on, a visor, a gown, gloves, and all you have to communicate is your name on the top of the visor and the eyes of the person opposite you who you’re talking to. You have to shout. You have to use hand signals,” he added.
In the weeks leading up to the pandemic hitting the UK, Dr Behar read with some apprehension online testimonies from staff in Italy, he recalled.
“I had a few friends and colleagues in Italy, who as you know are a few weeks ahead of us in terms of the curve of where the pandemic is going, and I was seeing stories on Twitter and social media about how they’d been coping, or not coping, and how they’d been overwhelmed, and doctors had to make really difficult decisions because of a lack of ventilators, and quite frankly that was a terrifying thought that it would happen to us,” he said.
But having been at Nightingale Hospital for several weeks now, he said, the initial apprehension has now turned into an “energy of inspiration and motivation,” and working with medical practitioners with a range of specialities has been “the most amazing thing”.
“I’ve worked on the intensive care unit staffed by intensivists but also staffed people like myself, heart specialists, eye surgeons, shoulder surgeons, psychiatrists, general practitioners, and a whole range of people who are not used working on an intensive care unit, and yet we’ve all come together to do our bit,” he said.
He recalled a heartwarming moment when members of staff on a ward all burst into a spontaneous round of applause after one of their first patients became well enough to be extubated.
Colleagues, he said, “just suddenly stopped and turned around looked at this patient and there was a rapturous applause from applause, and despite all the PPE, you could see in everyone’s eyes how delighted they were that we got a patient through this horrible disease.”