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From being a Dentist and Mother to being on Maternity wards during the COVID-19 pandemic

Swati Nehete is Senior Clinical Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London’s Institute of Dentistry. She was recently called up to volunteer in the Maternity wards at The Royal London Hospital to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog, she writes about her experiences and describes how she dealt with the uncertainty of not knowing where she was going to be deployed.

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Swati Nehete
Swati Nehete

The Coronavirus pandemic has posed significant challenges on our daily lives.  We, within healthcare, are uniquely placed to be a force for good in these difficult times. At Queen Mary we were busy preparing ourselves for altered teaching and academic processes during these times, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be prepared to be redeployed.

We discussed as a family, the importance of being a part of the response if the call came for me. My husband is a Consultant Psychiatrist, so it was an uneasy discussion for my son to know that both his parents could be at the frontline. We had heard that colleagues had been redeployed and I was keeping a close eye on the situation. 

When the Mumbai bomb blasts happened in 1993, I was a dental student and we were given limited duties for suturing of injuries under supervision.  It was harrowing, but it left an indelible lasting memory of a sense of purpose for having contributed in a small way.  I needed to be of assistance in my own small way in this national endeavour.

Excited but anxious

It was early afternoon on my birthday, when one of my consultant colleagues (Dr Mital Patel) rang to ask if I would join the effort. I was only too willing to accept, but I had to wait to find out where I would be deployed. Although I was quietly excited by the opportunity to contribute to the national effort of the NHS in my small way, I was equally anxious about the horrors of COVID-19 wards.  The NHS had already lost its first doctor and it was all over social media and the news.

I had experience in Maxillofacial surgery during my heady days on the wards.  I reviewed my knowledge of pharmacology and looked at videos to remind me of procedures I used to perform in those days. I didn’t think there would be a time I would seek out educational Youtube videos!

On being informed that I would be on Maternity units, I contacted a friend who is doing medicine at Imperial College, and she sent me educational materials to look through. 

A paradigm shift in workloads

We started by attending the wards on the 6th and 8th floors of The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.  It is a formidable setup with great attention to all the staff and patient needs.  All the teams, including the midwives and the doctors, were welcoming and friendly. They themselves were noticing a paradigm shift in their workloads.  Busy clinics and full waiting rooms were replaced by a slow but steady trickle of patients. They had colleagues who were either shielding or isolating, so it was important for them to know that we were available to help if needed. 

We adjusted to their working patterns and they started to rely on our readiness and availability to help in any way we could. A special thanks to Dr Nanayakkara for organising two vital training afternoons to help us adjust.  There are now two clinics each day on the pregnancy assessment unit for 12 and 20 week reviews for pregnant patients which are completely run by the dental team.

I have done 20 week check-ups for excited mums and completed their clinical observations and blood tests.  One afternoon passed by very quickly phoning patients who hadn’t come in for their crucial blood investigations.  The phone-calls were notably lengthy as they provided a necessary pleasant outlet for ladies confined at home with their families during lockdown. 

The comfort of hearing a baby’s heartbeat

My time on the triage unit has been the most memorable.  I helped the midwives to do foetal monitoring for several pregnant patients.  There is something soothing and comforting to hear the baby’s heartbeat during the trace indicating that “All is well”.  Pregnant mums attend triage in distress, so it is heart-warming to see them smiling when they leave.

My first time placing a cannula on the triage ward for a lady who started to go into labour was not without significant apprehensions.  But with the midwife watching over me and the patient experiencing contractions, I managed to place the cannula into the back of the patients hand in my first attempt.  I realised how proud I was and how fast my heart was beating to spare the mother another attempt.

The importance of the hidden teams

All in all it has been an interesting and informative experience.  It is my miniscule contribution to the national effort and I am indebted that Barts Health NHS Trust has allowed me to be a part of this.

Working in the hospital also allows you to acknowledge the enormous effort by the porters, the café teams, the cleaning teams, the administrators and the transport teams who are making this national response to COVID-19 possible.  The nurses, doctors, midwives, and dentists and pharmacists can contribute only because of the effort of these valiant teams who are cognisant of their purpose but may not comprehend their own value.

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