Last month I was singing arias. Now I’m a hospital porter

Last month I was singing arias. Now I’m a hospital porter


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2020

Milly Forrest first leaped to our attention almost three years ago as an usher at the Wigmore Hall who jumped in when a soprano recitalist fell sick. She is still studying at the Royal College of Music with a promising career ahead. But when the Corona crisis broke she answered to a higher call.

Here’s Milly, writing exclusively for Slipped Disc:

I’ve been working as a hospital porter in Watford general for a week now. I applied after hearing that the hospital was in urgent need and all my singing contracts had sadly been cancelled. At the moment there are just 7 porters out of 16 that are working. Most are isolating, a couple have new born babies and some are simply too nervous to come in. I suppose I can understand why.

Each day more and more wards are being turned into areas suitable for treating covid-19 positive patients. Watford general isn’t a massive hospital. On Tuesday I heard from the gentleman working in pathology that there were 85 confirmed positive patients currently being treated at the hospital. Those numbers are changing everyday as more people are being bought into A&E with severe symptoms. Apparently the doctors have now been told to assume that every elderly patient who comes to A&E has corona virus. I was very sad to hear a teary member of the ambulance staff yesterday saying under her breath “I can’t do this any more” to a nurse dressed in full protective clothing.

Because of the pandemic, all non-urgent appointments have now been cancelled until the end of June and all patients who are able, have gone home. There are no visitors allowed at the moment apart from in the maternity building which makes much of the hospital seem eerily deserted. Even then, women are only allowed to have their partners with them once they go into labour! Everywhere is quiet apart from the wards treating covid patients.

The porters are not given PPE. We are only given gloves and masks when we are asked to move covid positive patients between departments. I believe this is because wearing masks and gloves that have been in contact infectious patients must be thrown away immediately. If we touch doors, clean mattresses or equipment with dirty gloves or aprons, then that only helps to spread the disease around the rest of the hospital. This is being reviewed everyday but it’s believed that for now, this is the safest option and it makes complete sense to me.

Contrary to what the news is saying, from what I can see, the hospital staff are coping unbelievably well. There is enough PPE and ventilators to go around and everyone has been trained to use them. They are all exhausted and overworked but I haven’t heard anyone complain. The porters are all smiling and seem to take so much pride in their work. My hands are sore and dry from all the washing and my legs are tired from walking 16,000 steps per shift. But this is by far the most fulfilling job I have ever done. The nurses, doctors and carers are so brave and so determined and it puts the life I’m used to into perspective.

Of course I cannot predict what is to come and it is very sad to see an extra mortuary being built when I look out of the window. What I can say is that everyone is fully committed to defeating this virus and this will not last forever.

Stay at home please and keep smiling!


  • V.Lind says:

    Wow. Inspirational.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    What an inspiration you are Milly! Take care of yourself as well as your patients. I love the up-beat tone of your closing sentence ‘…… will not last for ever’

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Bless Milly Forrest and all who volunteer to put themselves at risk for the good of others!

  • elizabeth owen says:

    Well done and THANKYOU. Please all of you take care.

  • Terence says:

    Well done Milly.

    I hope your career picks up after CV19 … it’s going to be a different arts scene.

  • Eulalia Johnson says:

    This beautiful woman has not only a healing consciousness but a healing voice. Blessings, dear lady!

  • Bruce says:

    Lovely singing. And yes — as musicians we don’t always tend to recognize that, while what we do matters and makes a difference in people’s lives, it’s nothing like what doctors and nurses do to make a difference in people’s lives. (It’s not our fault; nobody outside the medical field has much idea what it’s like to work in a hospital, let alone during a crisis.)

  • Dave T says:

    I look forward to her world tour when this is over.

  • Ramesh Nair says:

    The personal protective equipment shortages are world-wide. I work as a part-time GP in New Zealand. Our practice hasn’t been given any N95 masks or transparent face shields. We had been promised the face shields by the start of this week. I finished work for this week three hours ago, and they still haven’t arrived. My practice nurse and I jokingly discussed improvising some this weekend by cutting up the transparent extra-large plastic bottles of soft drinks, so I have just arrived from the local supermarket with a 2.25 litre bottle of no-sugar Pepsi for this purpose.

    We are at much lower risk than the medics and nurses working in the hospital A&E departments. That said, it would be nice to get better protection. Despite shifting to video and phone consultations, this can’t be done for everyone. I still have to listen in detail to lungs and hearts most days, wearing a bog-standard mask of the same type that I wear to the supermarket. Now I’ll unwind by listening to the Rasumovsky quartets, since I just slapped a comment on the Slipped Disc review of them 🙂

  • Novil Frost says:

    This is so uplifting in these testing times. That’s an amazing voice thank you for sharing this Milly.

  • Valerie Webster says:


  • Suzanne says:


  • Susan Stanley-Carroll says:

    Overwhelmed by your words. Speechless at what you are achieving Milly dear. Your smile must give strength to your patients and colleagues. 16,000 steps in a shift! Oh, Milly, dear Milly you bring light to our lives with your singing and inspire us with your present work and as you write, “it will not last for ever’.

  • Sue sandy says:

    Bless you Milly! Thank you for your commitment and upbeat comments.

  • david hilton says:

    I wish she had a crowd-funding site so that those of us especially moved by her story could contribute directly to helping her in this difficult time.

  • Laura C says:

    So inspiring. Thank you! What an amazing human being you are!

  • Janet Chicken says:

    Milly. What you are doing is inspirational! Putting yourself at risk so selflessly for such a worthy cause is humbling. And also conveying the reality of this pandemic in daily hospital life. Your lovely smiling face must be a great encouragement to staff and patients. We look forward to when you can resume your singing career which has given many of us so much pleasure.

  • AT says:

    A true role model. A mensch. Thank you!
    Whereas at least across the EU I can see quite a few of currently underemployed, yet overpaid politicians, who could and should actually do a similar thing, but seem to be surprisingly hesitant.

  • Judy says:

    A huge blessing to hear you exceptional artistry in these troubled times and awestruck to read Of your unselfish work. Keep safe lovely girl, you are a special singer and a very special lady x

  • David Howell says:

    This is superbly written and truly moving – a hero

  • drummerman says:

    If she is single, I would be pleased to propose marriage to her!