Milly’s hospital diary: A singer checks in from the Covid frontline

Milly Forrest, a soprano who graduated this year from the Royal College of Music, volunteered as a poster at her local hospital as soon as the virus crisis began. This is her second dispatch to Slipped Disc:

I’ve been asked to give you a quick update about what has been happening in the hospital. The most surprising change seems to be we are no longer being asked to wear long-sleeved protective gowns around positive patients unless we are working continuously on an isolation ward. We are still wearing masks, gloves, goggles and disposable aprons but this has lead to a lot of confusion amongst the porters, cooks and cleaners because the risk doesn’t seem to have gone down. I have been at home for 3 days because of a slightly sore throat (no cough or fever so far) and so the guidance might have changed again in my absence. I will have to wait and see what happens when I return to work.

My shift pattern for the past ten days has been 2-10pm. The workload drops after 8pm and so I’ve started learning Italian to fill any pauses in between jobs. I’ve plucked up the courage to do a little bit of singing; once to the porters on my shift and once on a ward. Most of the patients fell straight to sleep but the staff in particular seemed to enjoy it. One nurse said to me “it’s so hard working here at the moment and you’ve really lifted my spirits.” That to me is what music is about. My amazing friend and fellow singer Bethany Horak-Hallet has just started working as a porter at NHS Nightingale. She is doing 12 hour shifts, all the time dressed head to toe in PPE. She is one brave woman!

Apart from temporarily running low on oxygen one afternoon, the hospital is chugging along brilliantly. Since the start of lockdown the number of very poorly people coming into A&E seems to have been going down. One of the best moments was when I took an elderly man who had been discharged to the main entrance to meet his son. He was over 90 and was well enough to return home. We will beat this virus and before we know it things will start to look much brighter!

Listen to Milly on her website https://www.millyforrest.com/

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    • Scary indeed, but it is foolish to make a “return to normal” contingent a vaccine. No vaccine can guarantee against mutation in the virus (it is unclear to what extent covid-19 may mutate or have already mutated). No ‘lockdown’ is completely watertight, and any major ‘lockdown’ will have undesirable side-effects, some of which will cost lives. And in any case, this will not be the last pandemic (in other words, *some* of the social distancing measures, such as encouraging people with colds/coughs to self-isolate and discouraging hugging, really ought to be permanent). My understanding is that the realistic purpose of most ‘lockdowns’ is not to prevent the population getting the disease, but rather to slow its spread to a rate that can be borne by our healthcare infrastructure. Only the most isolated places (e.g.: New Zealand and the Pacific islands) can aspire to be completely free of covid-19. Here in the UK, the best we can hope to achieve is to keep the proliferation of covid-19 within manageable bounds, and to shield the most vulnerable people. At the moment, we seem (despite the commendable and courageous efforts of the UK’s medical professionals, auxiliaries, and volunteers) to be failing on both counts.

      An important lesson that *must* be learned from the current pandemic is that our healthcare infrastructure requires more resilience — that means more permanent staff, more beds, more quarantine facilities (at/near major railway stations, ports, airports, &c.), and more PPE (based on Forrest’s account, it sounds like her hospital is rationing PPE — a worrying sign). This will require serious investment and may well require higher taxes (then again, it may be possible to find enough money if we cut Trident and such other bloated military spending as masquerades as “defence” but which does nothing to protect society, and often endangers it), but the human (and economic) cost of failing to make sufficient provision in our healthcare infrastructure for pandemics is far, far worse. Unfortunately, our politicians seem to care about nothing except their own careers and bank balances, so we are reliant on the humanity and generosity of those on the ‘front line’, such as Forrest.

    • Gus: The system seemed to collapse for a few days in Lombardy. But otherwise Italy has managed. The is pretty much no chance that the same will in Britain where there is still quite a lot of spare capacity in the hospitals.

  • Brava.

    I’m reminded a bit of Kipling’s story “Daughter of the Regiment” (nothing like the Donizetti opera). She deserves good things for getting out there and giving people what comfort she can. It’s not nothing, and in justice the universe should take note of it.

    • Indeed; and that goes also for her friend, Bethany Horak-Hallet, and the many unsung (and unsinging) volunteers caring for the ill.

  • This is wonderful public-spiritedness . May you have a long and happy life and a brilliant singing career

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