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Before corona now feels like a different lifetime. As with everybody in the UK I’ve gone through whole swathes of emotions, alarming changes and a complete shake up. We’ve gone through fear and uncertainty, trepidation at the coming tidal wave and now we are truly in it.

My emotions came to a head on Mother’s Day. I’ve never not spent it with my family. The plan for some time was for us all to see my grandparents. I decided that morning I couldn’t. In line with the evolving guidance it would’ve been irresponsible of me to take the risks. They are elderly, god knows how many people I’ve been in contact with the preceding week and as a doctor I should really be setting an example. It’s horrible when doing the right thing feels so counter-intuitive. All I wanted was to see my family. The bag filled with my Mum’s present sat forlornly in my bedroom, in the wrong place, not with her.

I ended up spending the rest of that Sunday agonising over my decision. Should I have taken the chance before an impending lockdown, when I’ve had a couple of weeks of annual leave and possibly at my lowest risk of being infectious? Would I regret not seeing my family for potentially the last time in months? I felt derailed, which keeps happening with new surprises this virus brings. Some days I can look after myself and relish a lovely day at home. Other days I feel so unmoored. Those are the days I check social media more, searching for answers and connection. As I was preparing to leave for the Midlands I scrolled through Instagram and it was full of confirmation to stay at home. Later on, I kept checking it to prove I did the right thing and instead I was confronted with photos and stories of days spent with mothers. I knew in my gut I’d made the right decision, but I still felt so torn.

The following Monday at work, I felt tearful and deranged. I felt swathes of regret and longing for familial support. I tortured myself with my decision, feeling so uprooted. I struggled to make decisions or prioritise my tasks. Work felt alien, the tension amongst staff building and I felt so displaced and unprofessionally emotional. I felt like I was a hindrance to my colleagues. I ended up calling an old friend and chatting for an hour over my (free – thank you Costa) coffee. I arrived home at 9 pm and found my boyfriend had turned the front room into an Italian restaurant, a bottle of red wine the table, candles lit and an ‘Italian restaurant playlist’ courtesy of Spotify accompanying. He’d cooked spaghetti bolognese and, wearing his Manchester themed apron, welcomed me to ristorante a la Ben. I had the biggest smile on my face. I immediately forgot all about my day at work as we had a romantic date in the living room.

When the blanket lockdown came, I felt relief. Finally, we all knew where we stood. We know what the rules are, and we should all know now to take social distancing seriously. It felt hugely conflicting to see groups playing tennis in the park when I’d shut down any face to face contact with my family.

As for the hospital, there was little to report in those first few weeks. We experienced a calm before the storm. We booted out the malingerers, cancelled elective procedures and did our best to get people home and receive care in the community. It is an eerily quiet place, no visits from relatives, fewer patients showing up and more clerical staff working from home. Our numbers of patients testing positives increased. We had our first Covid-19 associated death. It had begun. Practically our teams worked tremendously hard in designing new rotas, amending protocols and protecting our workforce. In the space of a week we’ve turned entire theatres into fully equipped ICU wards. It’s incredible to see the NHS come together, and for resources to be used efficiently and proactively, exactly as it’s meant to be.

Life before Covid-19 feels like a distinct memory. I still feel some sadness losing out on my psychiatry placement, but I can’t miss what never happened or could have happened in an alternate universe. I’m relieved by my new rota. I know where I stand. All my shifts are 12 hours. We work no more than three shifts in a row and always have two days of rest in between strings of shifts. Its kinder and simpler than our previous rota and has cover for when staff need to self-isolate. I’m fortunate to have such a good consultant behind our team of FY1s. He has by no means sugar coated the situation but highlighted to us that in times like these, bureaucracy goes out the window and medicine becomes much more hands on and interesting. This will be a significant time in our careers, we will talk about this for years to come. He framed it in a way that made it feel a privilege to work on the front line. People have leaned out their cars and called us heroes. Truthfully, it’s merely doing my job. It feels less like a choice, more a duty, a calling and the thought of staying home making tik tok videos feels like a worse form of torture.

Outside of work, I’m acclimatising to lockdown. With no imagined pressure of things to do or places to be, I’m pottering like a pensioner and feeling quite content. I’ve decided if I do one job a day then that is more than enough – whether that’s a food shop, a workout or baking a batch of cookies. I’ve always been well suited to retirement.

I’m still working out a routine on my days off at home. I’ve decided to start each day with some exercise as it sets me upright. I’m rotating between yoga, runs along the canal and weight sessions. I’ve dusted off some old dumbbells and bench press from the depths of the basement and after months of saying we never use them and should get rid I am eating my words. I’m loving exercising outside with my own music rather than the smelly confines of Pure Gym with their chart-topping travesties. I’m rediscovering my old running routes from marathon training. It’s not perfect, I don’t have all the equipment to hand I’d usually have or the motivation of classes. I’m still waiting on delivery of a yoga mat, but I’m making do with my bedroom rug.

I’m incredibly lucky to have a small front garden. I’ve planted Daffodils and trailed Jasmine up a homemade trellis. There are Geraniums and Alchemilla donated from various relatives. The plum tree is poised to blossom and every day I notice new changes and buds form amongst the foliage. Its somewhere to just sit and think in the morning sunshine. I’m loving hanging washing outside – the official marker of spring. I’m relishing the headspace to fall in love with cooking again, reading recipe books and experimenting. I love having the inclination to bake again, after what feels like years. There’s something so therapeutic about whisking flour and eggs and nibbling cookie dough.

After surviving a brutal round of redundancies, my partner is now working from home. The kitchen has become his office and as much as I miss listening to a podcast as I make breakfast, I am enjoying having him around more. He’s certainly being far more patient with me than if the roles were reversed. I’m not barred from the kitchen, as long as I don’t use the kettle whilst he’s having virtual meetings. It’s nice to see him less stressed, I’ve longed believed that office environments are bad for health (along with airports and hospitals). He seems calmer. We get to enjoy more of the evening together as he doesn’t need anywhere near as much time to diffuse office stress or switch off.

I feel relieved for the change in our pace of life. It felt so needed. I never knew how to stop pushing myself. I could never switch off FOMO. I struggled to feel content with what I had, always striving for more. I’m relishing life feeling simpler. I feel like I’ve been catapulted back into the 1960s. I feel myself slow down and breathe. Sitting on the step and chatting to the neighbours and letting time drift by.

The novelty may wear off. Going forward I have no idea how work will impact me or even what to expect day to day. I have good days and bad days. Some days I feel really calm and grateful. Other days I feel like an emotional mess. I’ve deleted my social media apps and watched a lot of Karl Pilkington. It helps.

Ben remarked on how strange it was to hear the street so quiet. I love it. I grew up in the countryside and the sound of traffic and car alarms has always felt alien to me. I am comforted by birdsong and butterflies. All this reminds me of how much I long for open skies and miles of green fields. Its where my heart is. The immediacy of a city can never replace the gorgeous timelessness of nature nor its endless freedom.

How incredibly strange and fitting that a global crisis shifts your priorities and desires. I always thought it was for new clothes and better holidays. When really it’s for family, friends, boundless greenery, flowers, reading, writing, community, good health and simplicity. With plans and futures thwarted, we have respite from looking ahead and just taking everything day by day. It feels like I’m finally living. This is it. It’s as simple as sitting on your front step and breathing out and in.

Words by Imogen Bicknell 

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