BLOG: “It shouldn’t be like this”

With a feeling of deja vu, Covid is once again at the top of the news agenda during this festive period.

Liverpool City Council video reporter Jenifer Bruce has been granted unique access to a Covid intensive care unit at Royal Liverpool University Hospital to capture the reality of what is happening now.

And that reality is that young, unvaccinated people are fighting for their lives.

In her blog, Jennifer shares her experience and urges people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those they love.

Whenever I’m working on a great story, one of the first things I do is buy a jar of crispy peanut butter. It’s not something I’m used to having in my kitchen cupboard otherwise.

The purchase recognizes that there will not be much time to cook. Rather, all of my decision-making skills will be focused on solving the story puzzle. While I put pieces of the puzzle together, peanut butter meets all of my nutritional needs. In addition, I only have to choose from three options: bread, crackers or a spoon. I have had a jar of peanut butter in my closet since November 14th.

Liverpool have been through a lot lately

A terrorist attack, the murder of Ava White, the hosting of the G7 meeting of foreign leaders and now the Omicron variant, which means the Covid numbers are rising again – rapidly. We all know what this means.

If you had told me a year ago that I had to go back to intensive care at Royal Liverpool University Hospital, I wouldn’t have believed you. Still, a few days ago, I put on the heavy-duty mask, with the red straps over my nose and mouth, and did the now-familiar breath test to make sure it was secure.

I think around the same time last year most of us thought it would already be over, or at least ending. Unfortunately, it is not the case. The vaccine helped revert to a version of normalcy, but it’s a bit of a false economy.

Liverpool has the 5th lowest vaccination rate of the eight major English cities.

Add the Omicron variant to that mix and things suddenly get worse. I have returned to the ICU to show you that it is not over. Now is not the time to let our guard down. We must do all we can to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our city. To do this, you need to have all the information, you need to see what’s going on and be aware of the worst-case scenario.

Yet reality would strike home from another town.

The day before my visit to the ICU, I received a message from my sister, Fran, who lives in South London. Leo, my usually robust four-year-old nephew, had difficulty breathing:

“… the GP called an ambulance, they think it’s Covid.” my sister wrote.

For a split second, I imagine the worst and I’m afraid. I’m afraid we’ll lose it, I’m afraid for my sister who is facing this on her own, because the families cannot be together to support each other in the hospital.

David, Leo’s father, calls me and I have to pick him up. I hear the fear in his voice, and I’m sure he could hear it in mine. We say to each other, it’s going to be fine, I have the impression that we are both pretending.

None of this is ok.

Updates from the London Hospital are pouring in over the next few hours. Leo is on oxygen and not responding to medication, so they put him on steroids. The pediatric unit is full, up 50% from its usual occupation at this time of year. Every child with respiratory disease.

I am very aware that what happens in London is usually reflected in Liverpool a few weeks later. My sister calls, I ask her how she is and she says: ‘this is terrifying.’ I hear Leo coughing in the background ‘I have to go. She hangs up. There is some relief that Fran and David both received their shots and Fran had just received her booster the week before. And I am fully aware that what is happening in my universe is happening all over the country.

I end up sleeping a little. I must. I have to fire at full speed the next day.

The atmosphere at the Royal’s USI is different from last year. It’s calmer. Things seem more ordinary – instead of extraordinary – like the first time we experienced a wave of Covid last Christmas. This year we have the vaccine.

Still, things are anything but ordinary.

As I interview a few doctors and nurses, I am troubled by the age of the patients in the Covid intensive care unit: the youngest is 30 years old. Unvaccinated, with no underlying health problem. This was repeated in all interviews, with the oldest patient being only 40 years old.

There is sadness among the ICU staff – and a sense of frustration. I ask them the question and all of them, once again, tell me the same thing: – It didn’t necessarily have to be like that for these patients.

Some of them might not make it – a few of them didn’t

A few hours later, I am outside the hospital. It’s only been a few hours, but I’m exhausted. The bridge of my nose hurts from the mask – I forgot that.

I check my posts to see if there are any updates from London. Leo doesn’t have Covid – instant relief. However, he has a bilateral lung infection and two viruses: influenza A and HPV which his doctors say mimics Covid.

The lockdown caused an aggressive mutation of the usual flu viruses

Leo’s doctors explained that last year’s lockdown had done its job: it was protecting us from Covid. Yet the lockdown also caused an aggressive mutation of the usual flu viruses – hence the rise in pediatric admissions. As my sister Fran told me, “All I know is that I had my booster Wednesday and I’m the only one still standing at home.” David fell ill on the day of his recall appointment.

I am relieved beyond words as I settle in to the house to start working on the story. I review my images. Patients battling Covid in our intensive care units – all unvaccinated. Their doctors and nurses are doing all they can to keep them alive. This icy feeling of banality mingled with the frustrated fatigue of medical teams.

I take my jar of peanut butter and a spoon and set to work putting together the pieces I’ve gathered. It’s no longer a puzzle, it’s a clear picture. The numbers have it. To get vaccinated.

Jennifer bruce

Video reporter

Liverpool City Council

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