A balance of duty and guilt

Dr Lucy Brennan, a GP and mum, shares how she is feeling being on maternity leave with her twins at the time of the pandemic, a balance of duty and guilt

balance of duty and guilt

I’m a GP.  I’m also a mum and happen to be on maternity leave. 

When the pandemic hits, I’m watching from the sidelines.  I’d usually be right there with my colleagues, one of the team, facing whatever must be faced, and doing all and everything that must be done.

On a daily basis emotions run between deep-seated guilt, a loss of identity in not fulfilling a ‘call to duty’ to the NHS; and gratitude beyond measure – to be here with my family, safe at home.

The guilt is overwhelming at times.  How can I be safe at home in the midst of a pandemic when my skills and training are the very thing needed in the NHS just now?  I feel this astutely.  From my previous years of ICU training prior to GP – I know all too clearly what it means to be proning a patient, how bad this is.  That the use of ECMO is usually rare in my area.  That the numbers we are predicting are almost insurmountable.  That the ensuing challenge is looming and terrifying much like a tsunami, ready to hit.  And we know it will hit.

And my GP colleagues in the community.  Have they been forgotten in the planning for PPE?  I start to hear of close friends almost certainly suffering with COVID symptoms.  Some are OK, recover quickly.  Some are admitted to hospital incredibly unwell – this threat is real, it is right here on our doorsteps, and it makes no concession for anyone.  We are all vulnerable.

But I’m on maternity leave with twins.  At the time SARS-CoV-2 comes to our shores, they are barely 3 months old.  Exclusively breastfeeding.  I also have a toddler who has an immune condition.  Under normal circumstances we need to be very careful.  In this scenario we’re advised she should be shielding – she is in the highest risk group.

But everyday I watch stories from ‘the frontline’.  Colleagues and key workers wearing their PPE if they can source it, facing this invisible virus daily, putting their own lives at risk, as well as their families’.

Why should I get to stay home?  Is the sense of duty greater to family or to the NHS?  Should it be one or the other?  Is it for the greater good to move out?  Join the hundreds of other colleagues and step up, end my maternity leave early?

But what about my ‘duty’ to family?  I have to protect them, I have to feed them, I have to put them first.  Is this the ‘right’ thing?  Aren’t most people fearing the same things?

And so my thoughts oscillate daily, wondering what the ‘right’ thing to do is.  As the pandemic progresses, we see things developing in a constantly changing way.  As time goes on it becomes clear that, although things are hugely stretched, we are managing to some extent – there is no request to end my maternity leave early as yet, despite the hours of sleep lost worrying about it.

For the time being I stay at home and get to hug my babies tight.  I think of those leaving for work everyday and feel such deep admiration, gratitude and respect – a once-in-a-career time for most.  And I prepare to join them in due course and join the workforce when it is time.  There will be a long legacy no doubt.  An immeasurable indirect impact for a long time to come

For more wonderful reflections from doctors during this pandemic, check out our Doctor Diaries.

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Lucy Brennan

Lucy is a GP in Glasgow and mum to three girls. When I'm not working I love the outdoors and the sea especially. I like normal exercise, but my favourite is dancing yoga. I'm continually trying to play more piano, read and garden, with age these have become my solace.

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