COVID-19 will leave a legacy of harm that extends far beyond the high death toll

The coronavirus pandemic has many ways to wreak havoc with our health and well-being

The lives of frail older people, and those conditions that require ongoing interventions, are being affected by coronavirus  Picture: iStock

‘Would you be able to look after her, just for a day or so?’ I was asked. Aware there was no one else in the family who wasn’t ancient, working or the parent of small children, I agreed.  

A 95-year-old relative had fallen and sustained a fair bit of damage. She had been carted off to hospital just as the COVID-19 crisis was beginning to bite, then discharged early so she could be removed from harm’s way.

The idea was to get her into respite care, or at least provide her with a social services package. My support was supposed to be the stopgap between hospital and care in the community, so I packed an overnight bag and camped out in her spare room.

The ‘care package’ was a figment of the imagination

This happened just as I was dithering about going back to nursing. I had only been retired eight months, and although I had never worked in intensive care, surely I could do something?

‘COVID-19 will claim many more victims than those who catch the virus’

But I found myself rehabilitator-in-residence in my relative’s home instead. The care package and nursing home were just figments of a social worker’s imagination, even before the extent of the horror wreaked by the virus in nursing homes had come to light.

Weeks later, I am still here, battling on.

NHS community team provided gold-standard care

Where social services couldn’t help, the good old NHS came up trumps in the form of the New Forest Frailty Team, who delivered gold-standard care in the community. Every time they said, ‘would you like us to pop in?’ I had to pinch myself and try to keep my excitement within the bounds of self-respect. They were a breath of fresh air, someone different to talk to, a light in a gloomy sick room.

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Maybe they came so often because they didn’t quite trust the slightly demented, sleep-deprived care-giver, who always wore the same clothes because she hadn’t realised this would be a marathon not a sprint, to use the metaphor of the moment. Whatever their motive, I am immensely grateful.

Under normal circumstances, my relative would never have been discharged from hospital. I can’t imagine how she would have coped if I hadn’t been ready and willing to help.

Coronavirus is leaving its footprint across the population

Another older person I know sank into a pit of depression. She has poor hearing and sight and the isolation drove her to contemplate suicide. 

A friend, injured in a serious accident, had to struggle on alone after being discharged from hospital too early, her family unable to help because of lockdown. Another had a cancer diagnosis in the heat of the crisis and his treatment put on hold.

In my own specialty of ophthalmology, patients will almost inevitably miss out on sight-saving treatment. Even if therapy is available, people are too afraid to go near a hospital.

COVID-19 will claim many more victims than those who catch the virus. Globally, we will be counting our battle scars, emotional and physical, for many years to come.

Jane Bates is a retired nurse