As well as fighting to keep Covid patients alive, NHS staff are now battling a surge in abuse and denial in the second wave. Dr Rachel Clarke on how she is coping – and what gives her hope

Please imagine it, for a moment, if you can bear to. Being wheeled from your home by paramedics in masks who rush you, blue-lit, to a hospital. Then the clamour and lights, the confusion and fear, the faceless professionals, gloved and gowned, who eddy and swirl past your trolley. Your destination is intensive care where too soon, or perhaps not soon enough, you will arrive at a point of reckoning. You will blanch when they tell you, because you’ve watched the news and know what it signifies: you are going to be put on a ventilator. You will understand, as clearly as they do, that your doctors cannot promise to save you.

Here, though, is the detail that haunts me. For every patient who dies from Covid-19 in hospital, from the moment they encounter that first masked paramedic, they will never see a human face again. Not one smile, nor pair of cheeks, nor lips, nor chin. Not a single human being without barricades of plastic. Sometimes, my stomach twists at the thought that to the patients whose faces I can never unsee – contorting and buckling with the effort of breathing – I am no more than a pair of eyes, a thin strip of flesh between mask and visor, a muffled voice that strains and cracks behind plastic.

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