The first week, I think we all felt like cannon fodder. Day centres were closing, and we were being called to ask, ‘Can we provide a lunch for Mrs S?’. Then the next call would be to tell us something else had closed, and more of our services were needed. It was intense, and we felt more under pressure, within a week, I remember going into work, and all the streets were quiet, all non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants were closed. I got to work and said, ‘Thank god, I’m still working,’. When we welcomed new members to our team and our status was back, the respect came for our staff. The fear was subsiding, and we very quickly realised we could manage and manage well.

So, we worked throughout the first wave, with only a few staff members. If we tested positive, we made sure to isolate or shield, and when they overcame the virus, we continued to work. As the first lockdown was lifted, we got confident that we could do this. We provided care for all of our service users, and the staff received the well-deserved support they needed, and then our roles had their status back. We weren’t the second-class citizens we were reported to be, the people who were uneducated and who couldn’t get a better job. We proved that we were essential, and we showed how rewarding our roles could be.

For me, I’ve only ever been a carer, straight from school. While I was in school, I helped Belinda North’s mother, Sheila, run a club for children with learning difficulties in a day centre on Valley Road during the school holidays. Not because we had any high values, it was just what we did, Sheila told us to get off the streets and help her, and that’s what we did.

We never had the conversation to further education; we needed to work. I had the grand plan of joining the Air Force, but I completed a form at school with the wag man, and it said I should go down the health and social care path. There was a home for adult living opening up around the corner where I lived in Bell Green for adults with learning difficulties. My boyfriend and I offered to help paint and decorate with them, form there I applied for a job, and that’s where my career started.

There were no thoughts of ‘Not good enough for anything else’ no question of ‘am I educated enough’ we just got up each morning and went to work, which is exactly what I guess is happening for our team today. Sure, many can now be educated to move forward into newly available roles within our sector.

And now back to today, with the second wave, the virus caught me, my bubble and everyone around us in the office. I was in hospital reflecting on how marvellous everyone has been.

In the first months, we only heard of people having the virus, and it felt like it was in the distance, but we were still safe. We were aware that we needed to be ultra-careful. When Christmas arrived, we were allowed to expand our bubbles, and I went for a walk in the park with my dad, I saw my nephew and my great-nephew. And I would wonder later on, did I get it there? Or was it when I was walking with my friend just after?

All I can say now is that I caught the virus. I was admitted to UHCW on the 5th January 2021 and went home on the 13th January 2021. Which is why I wanted to write something to mark the occasion, not in a cheesy way, but just to tell you how hard everyone is working in the hospital. I’m guilty of believing they were doing as well as we were, but I can tell you it’s an entirely different story.

I don’t want to embarrass myself by mentioning everyone’s names, mainly because in the first few days, I was too poorly to take in anyone’s names. All the staff at the hospital would give you their right arm to help you.

Although there was one exception who I want to mention by name, Allan. A thoughtful and kind gentleman from Uganda. He told me that he felt like he was in a war against Covid, working five nights a week on twelve-hour shifts and spending two days look after his family and making sure they were safe from Covid. But he just had to get on with it.

Whilst working and supporting everyone; the staff were running out of everything gloves, wipes, urine test drips, pillows and the ward was running out of oxygen. Nurses were going around to each patient and checking all the oxygen levels accurately. They never stopped during their twelve-hour shifts. The ICU is full; the whole department is fit to burst, so they outreach to the wards.  There expert knowledge and teachings of proning in critical care added to our quality that the NHS offers.

Of course, now the general public is used to giving us accolades of gratitude, but slowly everything goes back.  No more clapping, free car parking, bumping up a cue so you can start your shift. The money hasn’t changed either.  Nursing staff on shift have been given an allowance and rightly so. But the health care assistants and all other staff haven’t, their money stays the same.

Thank you to all those that keep the NHS going, which obviously includes our lot on the district too we are essential to keeping the beds in the hospital free. Thank you to the ladies who bring the drinks round the meals round, the blood test the students the whole bloody lot.