A NORTHERN Irish surgeon treating Covid-19 patients has spoken movingly about stepping in for families unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.
Leigh-Anne Hill worked as a surgeon for over seven years across the UK before being redeployed to a major London hospital's intensive care unit to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The 33-year-old Belfast woman, who now works in end-of-life care, spoke to Sunday Life about being with people in their final moments.
"As doctors, we deal with illness and people do die. With Covid-19, we are updating families and it's not normally good news," she said.
"It has been a very emotional and difficult time. We have had very difficult conversations with relatives and have experienced very challenging periods throughout this because many of us have felt completely overwhelmed."
The former Belfast Royal Academy pupil added: "We try our very best because in many cases we act as relatives for people. We sort of become that patient's link between them and their family. You're there in place of the family, which is a huge emotional burden.
"I would be lying if I said it wasn't extremely emotionally charged most of the time. We don't usually give that much bad news. To have those conversations on a daily basis is difficult.
"I suppose I shouldn't describe it as a burden. It's a privilege and a responsibility that we've been given. If it is done in the right way, it can be valuable and bring a lot of peace for the family.
I just want people who are going through it to know that their loved ones are not alone. We are with them
"Anything that we do in those moments, they will hold onto them for ever, so it's a huge responsibility and we are very careful how we act upon that. We are all human, at the end of the day, and we just do our best.
"Some people want photos or jewellery or prayers and we accommodate those requests as much as we can. We go a long way for the families and patients.
"I think that's all we can do in those situations. Hopefully we can walk away with that - that we did our best.
"The main thing for me has been how grateful everyone is. The gratitude families show despite extremely difficult circumstances is compelling. They have brought us food, water, clothing, all sorts of things. It keeps us going.
"I just want people who are going through it to know that their loved ones are not alone. We are with them."
Leigh-Anne has lived in Great Britain for 14 years and worked in London, Leeds and Glasgow, but she still found the redeployment hugely challenging.
"Nine weeks ago we were told where we would be distributed in the hospital. I have been on this rota since then," she explained.
"I was originally working in general surgery, but all of us were moved across to Covid-19 wards. I'm in intensive care, which has the sickest Covid-19 patients. If they aren't doing well on the ward, this where they come.
It was like starting your first day as a doctor all over again
"At the start it was really tough. I think the only way I can describe it is as having a very steep learning curve. Very quickly we had to adapt and everything was new to us. It was a new ward and the patients had an illness which was not very well understood.
"In no time at all I was carrying out new procedures. Basically, everything was new. It was like starting your first day as a doctor all over again.
"It was overwhelming, difficult and very tough in the first few weeks, but you learn to adapt as you go along.
"The hospital did a great job. We had some sessions before we were moved across on what we would be doing and how we would be breaking bad news to people, which was all new to me.
"We had those sessions and got started, but it was difficult to adapt to breaking that kind of news to people."