Covered head to toe in PPE, two healthcare assistants meticulously shave the hairs from a patient’s face.

The man is heavily sedated, hooked up to an array of machines which are keeping him alive.

There will be no visitors for him to smarten up for, the virus that has rendered him helpless keeps family from being at his bedside.

But, in normal times he can’t stand to have a beard, his wife has told staff, and so they maintain the daily ritual for him – even as he lies unconscious in a hospital bed.

This scene, a small act of tenderness, seems to sum up the atmosphere here in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the Royal Oldham Hospital. 

Patients lie on this ward, suspended between life and death. Most breathe with the aid of a ventilator, their lungs engulfed by this horrifying disease.

Staff attend to them with a tender diligence and efficiency.

Masks are so airtight there is no hospital smell, and, but for the staff’s conversation, which is professional but surprisingly cheery, there’s a silence. No bleeping from machines, just a sense of weary calm hanging over everything.

You see it in the particular walk that some of the staff have, a determined, foot dragging trudge, like soldiers who have been walking for miles, and know they have miles to go yet.

Whilst hospital admissions across the country are starting to fall, the intensive care unit at Oldham is still full, and patients keep on coming.

Though most of them are oblivious, on beds spaced out in a ward split into three sections, attempts have been made to bring something of the familiar, something of their ordinary lives, into the sterility. Photos of their families surround them.

The consultant is interrupted by a phone call to say a patient is being discharged from ICU, meaning a bed will become available.

He breathes a sigh of relief. There’s already a critically ill patient in A&E waiting to be accepted on to the ward, which operates on a ‘one in one out system.’

If what is happening in Oldham is a snapshot of what’s happening across the country, then it is a powerful testament to the ability of people from all walks of life to work together in a crisis.

“You just don’t know who is going to react badly to this virus,” he says.

“There are people in their 30s and 40s that I’m looking after, but it’s not just about age. It’s every day people you don’t expect,” Harry said.

“You just never know. You could get a phone call to say they’re admitting someone in their 70s, or you could get someone in their late 20s.”

“Looking at how patients are most severely affected it seems to be areas where there is most deprivation,” he says.

“Oldham obviously has a lot of areas with high deprivation so our population are not a healthy population even before Covid.”

By admin