• Countries Visited: 9
  • Travel Wishlist: Lebanon, France, Slovenia
  • Locked down in: Camden, London

“We have a huge amount of burnout and illness among the team, and a seemingly endless roll call of team members needing to isolate and be tested following a cough or a fever.”

I have been living in London for three years, and was flying back from a visit to my family in Melbourne in January, when I noticed that almost everyone was wearing a mask in Hong Kong airport. We weren’t that far from Wuhan, so it made sense but it was also a bit scary – I hadn’t considered that covid might go on to affect the rest of the world. At this stage I think it was still considered a more local epidemic.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I found myself a part of our Hospital Planning Group – a task force set up in the veterinary hospital I work in to discuss how we would handle the inevitable changes to our business as we became affected by this pandemic. I sat in the first meetings feeling like it was a bit of overkill – I thought we might have to change things up for a few weeks and could sort of patch together a plan rather than needing twice weekly meetings, new policies and procedures, changes to how we work in every sense.

That was over 6 months ago, and we still are still working a lot out as we go along. This has been the most stressful period in my career, including when I used to work 12 hr, understaffed nights in A+E. In my current role as a nursing manager, I am trying to look out for the team I take care of, while also supporting the hospital, my colleagues and myself.. We are tired – the adrenaline has worn off and we are tired. We are working harder than ever, with less staff, more complicated ways of doing things to ensure social distancing, a lack of certainty about which days we are working and when we can have time off. We have a huge amount of burnout and illness among the team, and a seemingly endless roll call of team members needing to isolate and be tested following a cough or a fever.

We are doing jobs that aren’t usually our responsibility, we are trying to support our clients and do the best we can for their pets. Our clients who have lost their jobs can’t afford our services, but we have bills to pay and cannot treat London’s animals for free. We gave most of our PPE to the NHS because they needed it more than we do. We are still unable to get in what would be our normal stock levels because of supply issues. Some clients are trying to stockpile medications for their pets, fearing supply issues. We have had supply issues with some medications. The government agency that prints pet passports stopped production, so we have had clients wanting to leave the UK with their pets but being unable to get the correct documentation to travel. Our reception, vet, and nursing teams are all dealing with frustrated clients and managing complaints that should never of happened, but we are so short staffed they are inevitable.  Last week I referred a cat with a broken toe for a complete leg amputation –  a broken toe could have been easily repaired but at a cost – and amputation is cheaper. Low cost charity practices are closing due to lack of funding. We are watching people wave goodbye to their much loved pets in the carpark, because social distancing means that they cannot sit with their pet while we euthanise them. I stroke the brows of dogs and cats and tell them that their families love them as they slip away to an endless sleep.  

I have taught an elderly client how to use skype so that I could facilitate a video call between him and his dying parrot – something I didn’t really have the time to do as we were so busy across the hospital. I am working overtime every day and I don’t know when I’ll get the time back. I have watched colleagues have massive breakdowns, sobbing that we just can’t do it all. I went into work on my day off to express my concerns about a colleague who wasn’t coping, I was kept awake by nightmares of her taking her own life, such was her suffering trying to get through the day.

My industry has a 5x national average suicide rate and I am fearful of losing a colleague throughout this. We are compassion fatigued for caring for our patients and our colleagues while trying to provide the best care we can without compromising our own health.

We keep hoping that things will get better, but I have a genuine fear that once furlough payments stop in London, we will be overrun with animals who’s owners can’t afford treatments and we will become a euthanasia clinic. We all got into this job to help animals, and while it is a gift to be able to end an unwell animals suffering and provide end of life care, it is heartbreaking to see an animal die because of financial concerns.

And believe it or not, despite all of this – work has been my respite during this period. It is a place where I am so busy and have such a long to do list, that I can forget about the fact that my relationship has collapsed.

I was due to get married 3 days ago, but at the beginning of March told my fiancé that the issues we had been arguing over for months had pushed me to breaking point, that I couldn’t go ahead with a September wedding because there were changes that I needed to see in him, and in our relationship and 6 months didn’t give us enough time for me to be confident in the relationship. We agreed to indefinitely postpone the wedding. While I told my close friends and family the real reason, my wider community and all of his were told that it was because of the pandemic.

Since March, we have moved slowly away from each other, step by step. Always thinking that we were somehow setting ourselves up for a stronger and healthier relationship, by having some time apart, by moving into our own separate addresses, by going on dates with each other and avoiding the niggling things like who didn’t do the washing up properly or hung the laundry wrong.
With hindsight, I now see these steps away were me working up to being  done with this relationship, but I didn’t know it at the time.

I don’t know if I would have gotten to this place at the same speed without the pandemic, but it doesn’t really matter as I am here now. I was resentful at the start of our lockdown that we were arguing – it should have been such a nice chance to enjoy spending some time together, but it wasn’t. He was living elsewhere for the first 2 months of lockdown as we took some time apart.

I am angry at him, because we made the decision to live in London for his career- and to be honest I was happy enough living here too. However, my visa and right to work in the UK is tied to him. Without him as my partner, I may have to leave the country. For the first two years I was here, I would have been okay moving back to Australia at any point. However, in the last 12 months, I have landed a job which I adore (despite it’s current challenges) and is a career path into management that isn’t available in Australia due to industry differences. I have made friends in the UK that I love dearly. I have a lifestyle I adore – I live in the heart of London and can comfortably afford to buy new trainers on a whim, or travel with friends, and go out for dinners or nights out as much as I like (depending on local lockdown laws which are ever changing.)

I have asked my workplace if they are able to sponsor me to stay in the UK, and have made peace with the fact that they may not be able to. I would rather be outside of the UK and outside of a relationship that stopped bringing me joy than be in both.

When I talk about ‘home,’ sometimes I mean Melbourne and sometimes I mean London. I never thought London would feel so much like home, but it does and I hope to be able to spend a few more years here.

If I cannot stay, I will likely spend some time in Spain – as the irony of this entire situation being that even if the UK cancels my visa, I physically can’t get back to Australia at the moment – flights are incredibly limited and Victoria’s borders are shut.

Life in London during lockdown has been strange, but also strangely ‘same.’ We had a few weeks of a harder lockdown, where our movements were quite limited – however I was still catching the (empty) tube to work, so it didn’t feel largely different at this time. Weekends at the moment are mainly spent at pubs or bars with friends, where numbers are limited, table service in the standard but it feels otherwise largely normal. We are going out, meeting new people, getting late night kebabs. The streets are busy. Restaurants are full. Shopping centres are open – we just wear a mask and otherwise life feels like business as usual outside of work. Overseas travel has been banned by my workplace, to protect the team, so my last week off I went hiking in Scotland with friends. It felt so normal. If I do have to leave the UK soon, I’ll be sad that maybe I didn’t travel enough of Europe while it was on my doorstep, but I know I can always come back as a tourist. I couldn’t tell you how many cases of covid we are seeing in London as I avoid the news- I am too fatigued by it.

Today, news breaks that London may be going back into a ‘lockdown,’ and even the proposals at hand are not a huge insult to our current lifestyle – the pubs will still be open, I’ll still be working and not much will feel different.
My heart is breaking for my family and friends in the worlds strictest and longest lockdown in Melbourne. I feel helpless because there isn’t much I can do to support or even entertain them. As I’ve been having a different sort of hard time, it can be difficult to feel connected over the phone. I miss my family and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. I am grateful for my colleagues, housemates and good friends in London who have helped me through the breakdown of a serious relationship during a pandemic, but nothing is quite the same as a hug from Mum.