(Written in response to the news of the alleged Downing Street Christmas Party of 2020- some readers may find this distressing.)
Dear Boris, I have a confession to make. I lied too. At about the same time as your advisers and staff were eating and drinking wine and cheese, I was working. It wasn’t on the exact same day as the downing street Christmas Party, but somewhere in that week of December 2020.
I had been called to help transfer a man to ITU, he was covid positive (of course). It wasn’t actually my job that night to help transfer him, but you see we were short staffed so I was doing my job and my that of my absent colleagues. As we wheeled him down the hospital corridors, he struggled to breath, his eyes darted quickly to us then his surroundings as we pushed him. In the lift I squeezed his hand tightly through my gloved hand. He squeezed back firmer than I’d expected, he still had some fight left in him, still had an unexpected strength.
‘Who makes the Christmas dinner in your house?’ I asked him, shouting so the words could be heard over my mask.
‘I do. Every year for my wife and the kids. 35 years we’ve been married.’ The words came out in broken sentences, as he took shallow, quick breaths in between the words. His eyes flashed with a tear. He briefly smiled lost in a memory somewhere, as his hand still squeezed mine. The lift doors opened loudly, we’re outside the ITU. I let go of his hand to walk in front, the emergency kit bag heavy on my shoulders. I’m not going in with him, I’d have to upgrade my PPE, I’d have to put on a full armed gown. My colleague who has been treating him will go in, another nurse will meet us at the other side of door, they will all go in together. He watches as my colleague changes into a full-length blue gown, my colleague’s body lost underneath the sea blue. And here Boris is where I tell my lie. My patient’s face is contorted in fear, his eyes scream at me to help, to give him one last bit of hope.
‘Right, lets get you well so you can make the Christmas dinner. Let gets you better.’ He took both my hands in his, his body turned to me, I’m covered in my mask, my visor I’m faceless. ‘It’s gonna be ok, it’s gonna be ok.’ I tell him. He’s crying.
I then tell him what I tell anyone being transferred into ITU awake, I tell him to keep his eyes closed tight, not to open them until someone tells him too. This is so he can’t see those around him, he can’t see the purgatory of those hovering between life and death.
But you see Boris I lied. I knew it wouldn’t be ok, in my hearts of hearts I knew we wouldn’t get him home for Christmas. I knew he wouldn’t be making Christmas dinner. But I wanted to give him hope, one last burst of hope, one last reason to fight. He died Boris, he died. And my lie ‘that all will be ok’ has stayed with me. Because it was not ok, and I knew that it wouldn’t be.
But Boris with my lie, I feel that I did it for the right reasons. I did it with integrity, I did it with my patient’s best interest at heart. I didn’t do it to cover up a wrong doing, to hide a truth. I didn’t do it so I didn’t get into trouble. I didn’t do it because my actions were unjust, illegal, against the rules. I did it so he would feel ok, so he would be comforted. I didn’t laugh about my lie, I didn’t giggle about my lie. Instead, I felt a guilt that has stayed with me.
In my career I have told many patients that they are dying, I have held many hands and told the truth. The blunt, honest truth. But here I had to give him something, just one last thread of hope. Now Boris, it does sound like I’m justifying my lie, maybe I am. But I still understand that a lie is a lie, it’s wrong. And I tell my children this every day, to lie is wrong.
Later that night I went to the side-room of my patient’s wife, you see Boris, she had covid too. She was being treated in the same hospital as her husband. I watched her for a few moments as she slept, an oxygen mask covering her face. The bed covers rising and falling with the rhythm of her breathing. Her nurse informed me that she hadn’t slept well that night. So I didn’t wake her, what good would it do in the middle of the night to tell her, her husband had been transferred to intensive care? What could she do? I decided to let her sleep, let her rest. We would tell her in the morning.
So, Boris I have confessed to my lie, I’m sorry for my lie. I see your advisor has resigned. She has apologised for the comments made, but I’m yet to hear her apologies for her lie, or for her actions. I’m yet to hear the truth. And tonight, Boris, I wonder who will make Christmas dinner, after 35 years of not making it. What will my patient’s wife eat this year? Although Boris, to be perfectly honest, I’m not even certain his wife lived, I suppose now I’ll never know.
Enjoy your cheese and wine Boris.