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A student view - Being a student and key worker in the Covid-19 Pandemic

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, universities have been suspended till further notice. But as a domestic in the emergency department at a hospital in Birmingham, I have gone from having no worries as a student to being thrown into the front-line; cleaning infected areas and helping to keep staff and patients safe.

For some background information, I work as a bank domestic in my hometown of Birmingham. This means I can pick my hours when I come back from University in Salford and cover anyone who is off work, but since being back I have been lucky enough to be booked in the emergency department, from Monday to Friday each week. Which means I‘m doing full time hours, as well as completing university work at a weekend.

It all started when I came home for the weekend, as I usually do each weekend when I am studying, I had an email from my university saying that teaching would be suspended two weeks before we were due to break up. I went back to Manchester on the Monday to pack a suitcase with as much as I could, as I didn’t know when I would be back in Salford. On the Thursday of that week I went back to work, little did I know that I would be placed in A&E, as one of the permanent girls that work on the area had gone on early maternity leave. Since that day, which was over two weeks ago, I have taken on the full time 7am-3pm hours. The girls I have been working with are lovely and so inviting, which makes you want to go into work and work hard whilst having a laugh.

We clean the whole department between the five of us. There are hot areas which is where the infected Covid-19 patients are and then there are cold areas where non-infected Covid-19 patients are seen. Between us we change and swap each day so that we aren’t on the hot areas two days in a row. This is because of the masks we have to wear in the hot areas. The masks keep you safe from the infected patients that surround you in these areas. My hands are red raw by the end of the week from constantly washing them and wearing the gloves. I have been moisturising as much as I can at home and throughout my shift.

I never thought I would be classed as a ‘key worker’. I never really thought about key workers until this point. I am glad I am a key worker in this situation because it means I can go out and speak to other people other than my family. I love my family to pieces but sometimes it is good to go out and speak to people other than your mom and dad. Everyone I work with in the emergency department from the other domestics to the porters to the nurses and doctors are supportive and kind. The general public have been so generous too, we have had freebies delivered to work from Chinese food for lunch to toilet roll if we need some at home.

Regarding assignments and exams, I don’t have any exams to sit this semester. But my assignments have been revised and adapted to suit the situation we are experiencing. As a journalism student, we are not allowed to physically interview people face-to-face, so we are learning new skills in recording on skype and facetime. They have also been changed so if we can’t get an interview with someone, there are ways around this. For example, I study a module called Celebrity Journalism and we had to find a celebrity to interview. But if we can’t do this, there is a different essay we can write and do research on a specific person of our choice, which has helped with everyone on lockdown.

My lectures haven’t yet been moved online as we are on Easter break at the moment. We have had full support from our tutors though and they are always at the end of a phone or email, if we need them. I have sent my tutor so many emails recently with so many questions listed, and she has always got back to be within the hour if not by the following morning. They are always making sure we are feeling okay and that our mental health isn’t slipping, which could easily happen for some stuck in halls.

Working in a hospital can be very hard on your mental health. I came home yesterday after seeing a lot of elderly patients coming into the hospital and it really upset me; as I was thinking about my grandparents. They are self-isolating, and we are delivering them shopping so I know they are safe, but it is still worrying and upsetting.

It is like living two different lives, one where I am studying hard, getting assignments finished and was going to the pub with my friends, to one where I am classed as a key worker and go to work and see patients at the end of their lives. It is challenging but rewarding. Hopefully at the end of all this, I can balance the two into one and have a new outlook on life.

Ellie can be contacted via twitter @ellielouisemacd Linkedin profile is:

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