Those looking for some insight into the pandemic from the perspective of a health care worker.
In a nutshell:
Dr Dominic Pimenta, a cardiac registrar, tells the story of his experience working in hospital during the first wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic while starting up the HEROES charity to support healthcare workers.
N/A (Audio book)
Why I chose it:
I’ve followed Dr Pimenta on Twitter, and he’s shared some strong words about the UK Government’s failures during this response. Plus, as someone with a public health preparedness background, I wanted a bit more insight into whether it has been as bad as I think. (Spoiler: It’s worse.)
It’s hard to do a retrospective of a pandemic that is still very much widespread in many parts of the world, but this book does a great job of laying out how utterly wrong the UK government got in during the first wave, and pointing what will need to happen to avoid these failures going forward.
Dr Pimenta was working in cardiology earlier this year, eventually being transfered to provide support in intensive care units treating patients with COVID-19. In this book, after providing a bit of a biography, he shares his experience – day by day at the start, then week by week. He expresses his incredulity at how slowly the UK Government reacted despite evidence of what was happening in Italy. The UK was one of the last European country to lock down, likely costing thousands of lives. They also had policies like refusing to test people without travel history even after there was community spread.
But more than that, the UK government was responsible for so many cuts to the NHS over the years that it was just not resourced to respond to this pandemic. Two years ago there were as many as 100,000 unfilled posts. Hospitals were running at 95% capacity according to Dr Pimento, which meant very little wiggle room for something like this disease outbreak. Yes, it is great to have national healthcare (the US is still an utter shit show when it comes to health care), but one must actually FUND that healthcare to ensure it serves all who need it.
Dr Pimento also shares how he and his wife, who is also a doctor, and some friends and family decided they needed to do something, so they started the HEROES charity (now called Help Them Help Us: https://www.helpthemhelpus.co.uk/) to raise money to get PPE and other support, such as food delivery and mental health care for NHS workers. Something the government should have been handling, but yet again, a failure.
The book was hard to listen to at times, as all of this is so fresh, but it wasn’t as emotionally draining as it could have been. Two bits stand out as memorable: the detailed description of all the medical support needed for one ICU patient, and the first death from the disease that Dr Pimento is present for.
The audio book features a Q&A with the author at the end of every chapter, with Dr Pimenta being asked one or two questions relevant to what we’ve previously learned. I found that to be really helpful, especially as I often had the same question that was asked.
The second UK lock down is set to end in a few days. There are vaccines that are close to being available. But the UK government is still failing, making decisions based not on the science or what’s best for public health, but on their fears about the economy or worries about ruining Christmas. (Frankly, I think killing my relatives because we got to mix households over Christmas is a bigger way to ruin it than requiring we open gifts via Zoom, but then again I’m not Prime Minister so what do I know). It’s clear during this second wave that Boris and his friends just haven’t learned from the first wave, and that’s so deeply disappointing.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: