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March 2022

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Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in a health care worker’s perspective on the first couple of months of COVID-19. Anyone who just wants to feel a little more rage at government failure.

In a nutshell:
Hospice physician and author Clarke shares her experiences – and experiences of patients and their families – during the first few weeks of COVID in England.

Worth quoting:
“In a major trauma, it is effective logistics, more than anything else, that saves lives.”

“It is abundantly clear that our patients were no one’s priority. No one in power had properly considered them.”

“Those residents — the very old, the very sick and people with disabilities — are precisely the population most at risk of dying from COVID. Yet far from being cocooned, as the government promised they would be, they are being incarcerated with COVID.”

Why I chose it:
I used to work in Public Health emergency management in the US. We had plans, though they relied on the federal government to have their shit together. Watching the UK national government, led by wildly inept elected officials, flounder and fail repeatedly, I am interested in learning as much as I can about exactly why and how they could have failed so dramatically, in the hopes that they don’t fuck up the response to the next pandemic.

Review:
As I type this in March 2022, two years and a couple of days after the government finally said maybe people should, like work from home for a bit if they can, there are zero restrictions related to COVID in the UK. I don’t even think we have to stay home if we test positive. I mean, they’d like us to, but not needed. Tests are free (like the only thing this government did right), but that ends at the end of March too. Masks are recommended on transit, but even that’s not required. You could also get on a plane and come here without proof of a negative test. Hospitalizations are on the rise, cases are higher than ever even with fewer people testing. It’s not a good look. But it’s not surprising because, in case you couldn’t tell from the first parts of my review, I think that England has royally fucked up the entire response to this disease.

I think Clarke agrees with me, at least regarding the parts that are in her purview. She kept a diary of the first few weeks of COVID in England, and this book is a compilation of that, experiences of some people who survived COVID, family members of those who did not, and people who were impacted health-wise in other ways; e.g. having to delay or defer treatment for other deadly illnesses like cancer.

England locked down too late, and at one point accounted for something like 10% of COVID deaths despite having less than 1% of the world population. And part of that is because of how England treated people who were in care homes. The staff in those facilities weren’t treated like proper health care employees, and so didn’t get the PPE they needed. At the same time, people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without COVID tests, so COVID was basically forced into these care facilities. It’s disgusting and should be a national disgrace; instead the government is still boasting about their world-beating whatever.

Not that I imagine you need it, but the book provides such a human face to what turned into statistics, especially for those of us like me who so far have been lucky enough to both avoid getting COVID and avoid any of my friends or family getting seriously ill from it. We learn of the experience of someone who had to be intubated, and also the discussions that took place within hospice and when people were definitely dying. It’s not an easy read, but it is a book I couldn’t put down. It gives me hope in the sense that individuals are determined and care so much, but it makes me despair at how utterly so many of the people elected to serve us have failed.

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