Mental health diaries: what it’s really like running an NHS coronavirus testing site

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This Mental Health Awareness Week, Stylist is sharing mental health diaries from key workers on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus. Here, coronavirus test site manager Jordan shares a glimpse into a day in her life.

I’m Jordan, 29, and I work at the Leeds Temple Green park and ride Covid-19 testing site. My previous role was practice manager and dispensing optician at the Boots Leeds Albion Street Boots Opticians.

When the practice closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I was at home and felt that I couldn’t just sit down and do nothing. I wanted to do something. I’d already put my name down for NHS volunteering, and then I heard that Boots was setting up Covid-19 testing centres, and I just knew it was something I wanted to be involved in.

Sometimes we will expect queues of an hour and a half at the site, as so many slots get booked up. We’re working at the site alongside the Army and Sedexo, a company that specialises in quality of life services. 

8am: I wake up and my fiancé Tom brings me a cup of tea. I’m not a morning person, and I struggle to open my eyes. I sit up and check my phone for messages and emails. I’m not expecting any surprises as I keep in regular touch with the teams on my four days off. I smile to think it’s a workday and my team are back together for the next four days.

Tom and I run for 45 minutes, him with enthusiasm, me not so much! After a shower I put on my work face – lashes and contour, the whole works.

12pm: As I drive to work, I wonder when I’ll get back to my store in Leeds – it seems so long ago that I was last there. I miss the team and the normality but I’m happy that I’m able to get involved in the NHS testing, and grateful I’m not sat at home trying to fill my day.

3pm: The afternoon conference call reveals some problems with staffing for the following day. There are too many people in the morning and too few in the afternoon. My team is fairly constant, and I feel frustrated that the other lanes are an issue, so I offer to liaise with the other providers to ensure we have better cover. I get stressed when I can see people who aren’t well having to wait in their cars, and I just want to help them as quickly as I can.

I am struck, as always, by the appreciation shown to us by the people who are doing so much for us all. Some of the NHS workers share their stories, which reduce us to tears. One nurse hadn’t seen her daughters in four weeks as she moved out of her home to protect them. The nurse messaged me later to say she had received her results back in under 48 hours and it was negative, so she could see her children for two days before going back to work. I was so happy for her.

4pm: I spend the afternoon checking the levels of PPE in the cabins, recording test numbers and filling in for comfort breaks and lunches. Today is busier than ever but when it’s busier it’s better! Time goes quicker.

8pm: We finish for the day with an exhausted sigh. I feel mentally and physically drained. I go round to thank everyone for their hard work.

"Before the pandemic, we were in the process of buying a new house. I wonder when we will be able to move out and into the next phase of our lives."

Today was our busiest day of testing, and the team are so proud when I tell them as they always want to beat the target if possible. I’m competitive with these kinds of things and it feels good to know we’re helping hundreds of people return to work and help fight Covid-19. I know some of the team have been missing their lunch breaks so we can fit in as many tests as possible, but we will come up with ways to ensure this doesn’t happen.

8.30pm: On the drive home after work I call Mum. I haven’t seen her for ages and miss her so much, but we call each other every day without fail. I chat through my day, what I’ve had to do, and ask her about her two foster children – the little one is still at school and I enjoy hearing about his day. I feel sad that I can’t see her, and the fact that I’m unable to give the smallest one a big cuddle when we drop off my mum’s shopping is heart-wrenching. He’s only five and he doesn’t really understand what’s happening.

10pm: Before the pandemic, we were in the process of buying a new house. As I arrive home I look up at the sold sign outside our current house and wonder when we will be able to move out and into the next phase of our lives.

We decide to take a walk past the house we plan to move into one day. I notice that the sold sign has slipped and I half wonder if that is an omen. I really want this house. Tom and I begin to talk through all the plans we have for the future, and all I can do is hope that one day our dream will come true.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on mental health charity Mind’s website or see the NHS’ list of mental health helplines here

Illustrator: May van Millingen

Other images: Unsplash

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