“We all have dark days,” says Fatimah Jaffer, an Rx2015 graduate who has worked as a hospital pharmacist in London since 2019. “A particularly difficult conversation with a patient's family, the news that one of your patients passed after a long struggle, or a hectic day on the wards is enough to leave you feeling defeated.”
Fatimah (right) works at the Whittington Hospital in North London where she supports the Care of Older People ward and the hospital’s re-ablement facilities. When the School of Pharmacy spoke to Fatimah last year, England was nearing the end of the first lockdown and trying to mitigate the impacts of COVID on the National Health Service (NHS). Her hospital underwent many procedural changes, and Fatimah was responsible for staying up to date on the latest therapeutic recommendations to treat COVID.
“The second peak in December 2020 and January 2021 was much worse than the first peak in April 2020,” she says. “I didn't think things could be worse than last spring, but they were. Numbers were higher and patients were more sick.”
“There was a noticeable change in patient presentation and demographics. I saw more young people being admitted as well as patients with long COVID presenting with thromboses after they had recovered from the acute stages of the illness.”
“At the start of the pandemic, we were faced with a novel situation and as such did not have treatment protocols in place,” she says.
Now, the team has greater knowledge about treatment options, and in her role as a hospital pharmacist Fatimah continues to analyze and disseminate clinical trial information to her team. As a mentor to junior pharmacists, Fatimah witnesses the professional and personal challenges of COVID and the impact of staff burnout.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, anxiety and fear of the unknown were prevalent feelings among my colleagues and I. This is no longer the case as we know what to expect now. We have a routine and coping strategies. I think sheer exhaustion is the challenge now,” Fatimah says. “We have not had a break. I haven't seen my family in Canada for over a year now and I can't even predict when I will see them again.”
London came out of its second official lockdown on April 12th, however restrictions on gatherings and travel are still in place. Many local shops and small businesses have unfortunately closed, and Fatimah sees daily evidence of the pandemic on the once-busy streets.
“My favourite time of year in London is Christmas time,” says Fatimah. “The city is filled with the most lovely displays of lights, décor, carnivals and markets. This year the lights and décor were dedicated to the NHS and were a more sombre affair.
The vaccine has been a bright light on the pandemic’s dark days. The United Kingdom was the first place in the world to approve a COVID vaccine. As of May 1,more than 34 million people have had a first vaccine dose and more than 12 million have had a second.
“The vaccine rollout has been inspiring,” she says. “I am in awe of how fast COVID vaccines have been researched, developed and approved. I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues who were involved in organizing vaccine administration in such a short amount of time. They worked around the clock to put policies and procedures in place, order freezers, and educate their teams on safe administration practices.”
Amid all the challenges, connections with family and friends have provided much-needed support to keep Fatimah going.
“They give me pep talks a few times a week and remind me why, despite all the stress and tragedy around me, I still love my job,” she says. “My family have been my support system and help me stay hopeful that one day this will all be over and we will be reunited. They also send me incredible care packages a few times a month with lots of goodies which has been great!”
Fatimah is also staying busy by working towards a post-graduate diploma in Pharmacy Practice from University College London and is furthering her skill set by undertaking an ITU/ICU training course as well as a healthcare-focused leadership course.
“The pandemic has identified how as professionals we need to diversify our skills and knowledge in order to respond to new challenges,” Fatimah says.