Doctor documents 'terrifying' reality of second wave in ITU

The proning team working together to ‘prone’ a patient

The proning team working together to ‘prone’ a patient – lie them on their front to improve their breathing. - Credit: Karen Chui

An orthopaedic registrar and amateur photographer has documented the intensive care unit (ITU) wards as Covid-19 "rippled through every area" of King George and Queen's hospitals, which were two of the worst hit in the country during the second wave.

Karen Chui, an orthopaedic registrar at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust (BHRUT) wanted to unveil the reality of the ITU as the second wave took hold in late December, with cases spiralling out of control across the Christmas period.

Neither press or public were allowed into hospitals to witness the severity of the situation.

A physiotherapist works with an intubated patient

A physiotherapist works with an intubated patient - Credit: Karen Chui

All the hospitals' work in orthopaedics was postponed while it continued to see high numbers of acute admission, but the trauma service was kept running for urgent patients.

Karen said nearly half of the hospitals' inpatients had Covid during the second wave, with many tragically dying with the virus.


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"We weren’t the only hospital to have ambulances queuing during particularly busy times. I also found it tough seeing our A&E department fill up with patients needing to be intubated when I did shifts there and the terrifying effects of Covid-19 rippled through every area of our hospitals.

"We could see how real this was, however, due to visiting restrictions, the public couldn’t.

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"During the peak of the second wave when we were at our busiest, there was very little media presence allowed in hospitals."

A critical care nurse places a cardiac monitor on a patient

A critical care nurse places a cardiac monitor on a patient - Credit: Karen Chui

She continued: "As an amateur photographer, who loves portrait photography and photojournalism, I wanted to capture this moment in time."

Karen spent two days at the ITU at Queen’s Hospital, shortly after the peak of the second wave.

Karen Chui

A critical care nurse squeezes a bag of IV fluids to increase the flow for a patient whose blood pressure had dropped - Credit: Karen Chui

She spoke to veteran ITU nurses, early-career doctors whose first professional experience was the pandemic, redeployed theatre staff and more from all corners of the hospital about their experiences on the frontline.

"They told me about the challenges of the prolonged pandemic and the toll it had taken on them personally, as well as professionally," she said.

"Many felt the weight of responsibility for being the only source of contact between patients and loved ones who couldn’t visit, and how they felt they were constantly breaking bad news."

Karen Chui spent two days in ITU alongside colleagues

Karen Chui spent two days in ITU alongside colleagues - Credit: Karen Chui

She was "awed by their resilience and relentless dedication to their patients".

"I hope, as we continue to move through measures to ease lockdown, these photographs commemorate the remarkable work of our staff during an unprecedented time, and capture the unique moment of this period in history.”

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