‘I felt like I was going to lose my patients and was crying every day in horror year’


Exactly one year ago the country entered lockdown and our world changed overnight.

For those on the front line it has been 12 months of trauma. Dr Ingi Elsayed usually divides her time between working with kidney patients and those needing intensive care at a teaching hospital in England.

Ingi, 47, lives with her husband and their 16-year-old son. Since the start of the pandemic she has been seconded to ICU full-time…

I started hearing about ­corona­­virus in February 2020. I remember seeing those images of people coming in from China, people going to quarantine hotels and it all being very controlled.

Back then we had no community transmission – but that felt too good to be true.

Read more from the Mirror’s Our Year in Lockdown series on our dedicated channel

ICU Doctor Ingi Abouzeid outside Stoke University Hospital
ICU Doctor Ingi Abouzeid says the mental scars will remain

One could see the carnage from Italy – it was difficult to imagine we would be spared. Things went downhill very quickly. We didn’t have enough PPE and there was no plan.

As a doctor, I was afraid. I thought, “The NHS is going to get overwhelmed, we don’t have the set-up for this, we don’t have good quality tracing, we haven’t closed the borders”. My concerns then were that some of my dialysis patients were on holiday and they could bring the virus back with them.

I asked what was the plan – and there was no plan.

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Dr Abouzeid
Dr Abouzeid feared losing patients

It became clear we were going to suffer a lot of death.

I felt I was going to lose my patients – a lot of them were very frail, I had to say goodbye to them (luckily I didn’t lose any of them) and that left me broken.

I was redeployed to do 100% intensive care – we needed all hands on deck.

Things were very bad. We did three types of shift to cover the hours, in rotation for six weeks with no rest or recovery.

She smiles with arms folded
People are so grateful to Dr Abouzeid now

We just had to keep going. It was even more of a challenge because my husband also had to cover intensive care, so we had to alternate our on-calls. My son is vulnerable to Covid and I didn’t want to infect him so I had to stay away from the house for the first four weeks. I was crying all the time. When I left the house I asked my family to take a picture because I didn’t know if I would see them again.

We had to keep showing my son where we kept the wills and telling him what to do if we didn’t come back, we left money in case.

None of the masks fitted my face. The hospital ordered me a specially made one and it arrived half an hour before I started my night shift.

The Mirror's Our year in Lockdown series
The Mirror’s Our year in Lockdown series

I come from an ethnic minority so my risk is higher. In critical care, 80% of our consultant force caught Covid.

Patients were afraid. You started to see their anxiety as they came through the door. I had to ask people to call their family to say their goodbyes.

I had to break bad news about dying patients on the phone. I don’t think the scars will ever go away.

In summer, we had less work on intensive care and we could also see sunshine. We had no ­visitors but we could go out walking. I knew this was just a break, not the end. We started seeing patients coming back again from mid-September.

Royal Stoke University Hospital was stretched
Royal Stoke University Hospital was stretched

When they started talking about socialising at Christmas it felt like a blow – to patients and us. The five days was completely inappropriate but one day still felt bad. Yes, people needed to feel better but they wouldn’t feel better if their relatives were dead.

I’m very optimistic with regards to the ­vaccination but it will take time. For us, in the second wave, the people we have in intensive care are in their 40s, 50s, 60s.

It is people who have been told to go back to work – in transport, construction – and they haven’t been vaccinated, so we won’t see a big change any time soon. Young people will socialise and they haven’t been vaccinated yet.

Staff wearing PPE of gloves and face masks, as a preactionary measure against COVID-19, disinfect an ambulance after it arrived with a patient at St Thomas' Hospital in north London, on April 1, 2020, as life in Britain continues during the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Our NHS heroes have been through so much

There is talk that we have tripled intensive care capacity but we haven’t. We’ve got beds and ventilators but we have not cloned doctors and nurses.

So a doctor is looking after 36 patients instead of 12. Doctors and nurses are extremely tired and won’t be able to do this again in a third wave.

I come from a low-income country but I’ve never experienced a state like this, with such high numbers of patients and many of them doing so badly.

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All the patients have been so grateful. Before the pandemic patients weren’t always happy but now we are getting so many “thank yous”.

We want to make patients better but we feel so helpless at times.

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