As part of our project investigating the mental health fallout of COVID-19, Men's Health spoke to Dr Mohammed Abbas Khaki, an NHS doctor and international aid worker. Here is his account of the past 10 months.
"Working on the frontline has been incredibly gruelling. There was a point when I worked 28 days straight because I had to cover for colleagues who were shielding or sick. It was shattering. I remember thinking that there might come a point of respite, a point when we could take a pause. We were lauded as heroes for it, which was nice, but then you almost feel like you have to step up even more. Even when you wanted to have a break, you felt like you should be more to help.
"Those early days were chaos. The people around us were petrified. I’m a minority ethnic doctor and all you’re hearing is that minority ethnic males are the ones who are going to die. And I had no PPE and I was seeing patients with COVID-19 all day. I was one of the first doctors to be a whistle-blower on the fact that we had no PPE. We were lambs to the slaughter.
"Then there’s the emotional impact. We had to tell grieving families that they couldn’t spend time with each other. We saw people at their sickest, gasping for breath. We had nowhere to go, no way to de-stress. You can’t even go home to see your loved ones, because you’re a risk to them.
"I lost people who were important to me: one of my first mentors, as well as someone I worked very closely with at medical school. I was in tears and I had no one to speak to. I had to call the doctors who knew these people. They were the only people I could grieve with.
"I’ve worked in Calais and Lesvos with refugees, and I’ve worked in Iraq where we were shot at by Isis. This past year, I’ve had to draw on every bit of those experiences, and still I’ve felt burned out to pieces.
"There is a lot of dark humour, sort of barracks humour, among medics. It’s how we cope. A lot of us will put on a brave face, but what we’ve seen and the stress we’ve been under has traumatised us in a way that is etched in our minds.
"I think that every worker should have an enforced health assessment: physical, mental, emotional. We need to be proactive, not reactive. We should be reaching out and saying, we don’t care whether you think you have a mental health problem. We’ll treat you like you do, unless proven otherwise.
"We have demonstrated that we are capable of changing the narrative, if we want to. The majority of us are good people who want to support each other. I'm a positive person and I'm optimistic that we can make the most out of this situation."
This story was extracted from our feature "The Other Pandemic" in the January 2021 issue of Men's Health.
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