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On the front line: Junior doctor deployed to ‘out of this world’ intensive care

Saarah Ebrahim, 30, discusses day-to-day life in the ITU, mental health and more.

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Junior doctor Saarah Ebrahim said she has faced a ‘steep learning curve’ (Saarah Ebrahim/PA)

Junior doctor Saarah Ebrahim said she has faced a ‘steep learning curve’ (Saarah Ebrahim/PA)

Junior doctor Saarah Ebrahim said she has faced a ‘steep learning curve’ (Saarah Ebrahim/PA)

As a junior doctor redeployed to intensive care, Saarah Ebrahim has been faced with an overwhelming and “out of this world” environment in recent weeks.

In the latest of a series of profiles looking at those on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, the 30-year-old, who works at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, tells the PA news agency about how her life has changed.

– What was your role before the outbreak and how has that changed?

I was just finishing my foundation year two and was meant to be moving on to psychiatry placement, then Covid-19 happened.

There was a survey sent out to find out the skill set of all the junior doctors and I was one of 14 who had certain skills which meant I was re-deployable to intensive care … and that’s where I’ve been for the last couple of weeks.

– What was it like adapting to the new workload?

It was definitely a steep learning curve and, although I had experience in intensive care prior to being redeployed, it was very overwhelming.

ITU is a very specialised area. There’s a lot of technical terms and information needed to do your job.

Prior to being redeployed, luckily I had a few days off learning more about ventilators and coronavirus.

All these things can help but it doesn’t take away from the reality of the situation. Each day is a steep learning curve. Some days are good, some are quite tough.

For instance, I was recently in a situation where care was withdrawn from a patient because they weren’t able to pull through despite the things we can do in critical care. That’s quite distressing … particularly when they’re at an age where they shouldn’t necessarily be at risk of deteriorating and don’t have a history of past medical problems.

– What other challenges does the role present?

Family discussions can be quite tough, as they aren’t allowed into the ITU setting as a result of infectious control. You’re giving information over the phone to loved ones and that can be quite distressing for them.

As a junior doctor, part of your role is doing those discussions… Even though they want some good news, I have to constantly remind them that we’re in critical care and we don’t know how the situation will evolve. If there’s anything I’m unable to deal with there are always seniors around to help.

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(Saarah Ebrahim)

(Saarah Ebrahim)

(Saarah Ebrahim)

– Do you have concerns over your mental health and that of other doctors?

I always thought I was quite a resilient person but ITU certainly breaks down those barriers a little.

We do have a lot of support. There’s a well-being centre in the hospital that’s been set up. The ITU consultants and the heads of department urge us to use the psychologists’ help if we need it.

I think it’s also about taking the time to reflect on the situations you’re in. Working within a hospital and all of the different practitioners pulling together to work as a team, that’s been quite good in order to share experiences to have some reflection on what it’s like.

As well as that, during my rest days I find that I can be quite exhausted so end up binge-watching Netflix and enjoying my days off as much as I can to make sure I recuperate and I’m 100% ready to go next time I’m on shift.

– How do you think the public would react if they could spend some time in the ITU?

I think anyone that spends time in intensive care would be overwhelmed by how intense an environment it is.

Even for myself as a healthcare worker and junior doctor who appreciates how critically sick these patients are, it has all been something that’s out of this world.

It’s something I will take with me for the rest of my life and will change the type of doctor I will become in the future.

PA