How COVID-19 is bringing out the extraordinary in people: Part 1, the frontline volunteer

Anagha Shukla|11th May 2020

COVID-19 has taken the entire world by a storm. But are we really in it together?

An interesting analogy I recently heard was, ‘We are in the same storm but in different boats, trying to navigate our way out’.

As businesses across the globe adapted to a new normal, how did individuals who found themselves at the heart of the pandemic react? Through a series of in-depth interviews with a volunteer, a patient and healthcare professionals, we have tried to capture how the indomitable spirit of mankind prevails despite the coronavirus chaos around.

In the first of this three-part series, Senior Copywriter Anagha Shukla speaks to Kate Baker, a single mum who battled brain tumour and has now signed up to be a volunteer at the hospital that treated her. She reveals what compelled her to make this choice and put herself at risk by becoming a frontline responder during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can you share what happened to you?

In December 2016, I was rushed to Queen’s hospital for an emergency surgery. I underwent two major operations, the first to insert a drain into my head to get rid of the fluid and the second to remove the tumour completely.

"When the pandemic hit, my immediate reaction was I need to go and help"

How did life change for you after that?

You only have one life, you got to get on with on it. Since recovering, I have been a volunteer patient partner at Queen’s and have been fundraising for the hospital charity through bakes sales and long-distance running. In 2018, I heard about the five-day Sahara Desert 100K challenge organised by the Brain Tumour Charity.

I don’t know what led me to it, the universe or the spiritual guide but I thought, what a perfect way to say thank you to the people at Sahara B ward who looked after me.

I couldn’t have done this without the support and motivation by the amazing team at the Brain Tumour Charity and even managed to raise over £4000!

What prompted you to work as a volunteer in COVID-19?

I was training for the London Marathon to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity. When the pandemic hit, my immediate reaction was, I need to go and help. I come from a school of thought that if you can and are fit enough, why wouldn’t you go and help?

At first, I thought of applying for an administrative role at Queen’s Hospital, but I wanted to do something more tangible. It was the nursing that really made a difference to me while I was a patient at the Sahara B ward at Queen’s Hospital. That’s when I decided to apply as a healthcare assistant.

"I think I have got the right shoes for the job"

Can you tell us a little about your role as a healthcare assistant?

The role is so much about helping people and being there for people at one of the worst moments in their life – particularly at a time when visitors are not allowed into hospitals. I want to be there for patients in the way the NHS staff were there for me while I was a patient.

There are a lot of things I already do as a hospital partner. I speak to patients, do ward lunch rounds, give out food, etc. Essentially, as a healthcare assistant, I will be assisting the trained medical staff, I wouldn’t be doing anything untoward, so it doesn’t feel weird.

How do you feel about being a healthcare assistant in a pandemic?

I’m not as terrified as I thought I might be. I have been thinking in the last five weeks– I crashed into Queen’s, survived severe migraines, severe to near fatal hydrocephalies… after all that if I can do parenting and school runs, I can do this. I think I have got the right shoes for the job.

Don’t you live a really long drive from the hospital?

I drive 47 miles each way. My friends keep telling me that I drive past five hospitals and should consider going to a hospital nearby but being at Queen’s is what drives me. They have saved my life, so I give them my time. I think it’s a fair swap.

How has the pandemic changed your life?

It has made me value my family, friends and my 70+ parents whom I can’t visit any more. It has made me appreciate people who can’t have friends and family with them anymore. It has definitely made me appreciate my time more. It makes me want to do more for others. I don’t know, maybe I’ll consider a career in nursing after this.

Since her brain surgery, Kate has been actively spreading awareness and fund raising tirelessly for The Brain Tumour charity. She had never considered a career in healthcare before. But the pandemic triggered something she had never thought of before. Here’s wishing Kate all the very best for her role as a Healthcare Assistant and the journey ahead.

You can make a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic by donating to The Brain Tumour Charity.

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