The mother of a healthcare worker on the frontlines of Britain’s NHS writes about how it feels to be the parent of a key worker during the coronavirus pandemic.
When my daughter was 2 years old, she would spend hours watching the chillies ripen on the plants under the hot Jaffna sun, chasing away the birds trying to steal a peck and plucking the chillies when they were ready, one at a time. Now grown up, she takes this nurturing tenderness into the neonatal intensive care unit in London where she works as an NHS consultant.
Her job has always been both physically and emotionally demanding but lately, the impact of coronavirus has made it that much harder. I never really thought much about how her work days are filled, noting only her long on-calls and her endless rushing around. But things have changed now.
On March 23rd, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a lockdown of the whole country. Coronavirus was spreading fast and we were all asked to stay at home. All, that is, except key workers. And that includes my daughter.
I know there is coronavirus all over her hospital. I know that my daughter dons the gowns, special masks and goggles when she is at work. But no amount of protection comforts me that she is safe. Since the lockdown, the news stories are increasingly worrying. Death rates rise every day to bigger, scarier numbers. Reports now include details of frontline healthcare workers who are dying. Just last week, two nurses and a doctor died from Covid-19, the illness caused by coronavirus. The news reports call them heroes. Behind the scenes though, these heroes are children to their grieving, heartbroken parents. Parents, like me, are sending our own children to the frontline to fight this disease for all of us.
My husband and I fall in the high-risk group, especially my husband who is shielding at present - a more stringent form of quarantine that will last at least 12 weeks. My baby girl does our shopping, picks up our medicines and runs all our errands. She is our world. Last week she was supposed to be on annual leave. She booked this at least 6 months ago. She cancelled her leave. Her colleagues were unwell with Covid-19 and she needed to cover the unit. If all her colleagues have had this deadly virus, she is at high risk of having it too. My daughter may be looking after ill babies but she is still my baby girl. She is working so hard right now; she may confuse the first signs of illness with tiredness. What will happen then? Will she get the same treatment as the prime minister who was admitted to intensive care last week?
These questions haunt every parent of key workers, fill every fearful tear they shed. But mingled in it all is bursting pride. Pride that my daughter, together with all key workers, is keeping this country running and keeping me safe. And as I join the nation in clapping every Thursday, I am clapping that much harder for my own hero - my baby girl.