Jennifer Darlow: Show support for your heroes—and if you want, clap

Many of us feel useless, yet now more than ever the greatest support we can give our frontline workers is to stick to the rules, says Jennifer Darlow

Christmas is over, we are again in lockdown. Schools are closed, restaurants are empty, and in some parts of the country frontline workers are on their knees. Many of us feel useless, unable to do anything to control this overwhelming situation. Every one of us is at our own breaking point, and for many the desire to just give up and disregard the rules is very real. Yet now more than ever, perhaps the greatest support we can give our frontline workers, and indeed each other, more than any public clapping or displays of gratitude, is to stick to the rules.

If we had been told in March that by January we would be facing a third national lockdown, few would have believed it. Now we are at this reality, with the highest levels of daily cases and deaths to date, it is little wonder that morale is at rock bottom. Faith in our leaders has disappeared, fuelled by mixed messaging, persistent sudden U-turns, and the so called Dominic Cummings effect. We are fed up, we are tired, we are lonely.

Yet coronavirus takes no account of our feelings, our mental health, our loneliness. This virus is tearing through the country like wildfire. We are seeing our hospitals bursting at the seams, our intensive care units overflowing. Reports of our NHS staff struggling, physically and emotionally, with the overwhelming stress, disease, and death, are multiplying. A major incident has been declared in London and the rest of the UK may well follow. This disease is still here, it is still real, it is still claiming lives. 

But it is important to realise that getting through this pandemic isn’t just about our frontline workers. Everyone has their part to play. For some, this role might be intubating hypoxic patients on intensive care units. For others, their role in fighting a seemingly never ending, overwhelming global crisis is to stay at home, watch streamed TV, and try not to think about it all. 

It can be easy to forget this when you are faced with endless empty days to fill, when you can’t go to work, when you haven’t seen your mother. You can feel useless, bored, frustrated, lonely. It is so hard to associate bursting hospitals with your quiet living room. It is no wonder that people want to break lockdown rules, which have dominated our lives for so long. But the more we break the rules, the more we go out, the more death we will cause and the longer this crisis will continue.

It was announced last week that “Clap for Carers,” now renamed “Clap for Heroes,” has returned. Once more, we are being asked to stand on doorsteps and clap for frontline workers, who have put so much into helping their communities throughout the pandemic. During the first lockdown, the clapping was met with passion and enthusiasm by much of the public; now the mood is more bittersweet. While clapping may show appreciation, however well intended, it does not help those who are suffering. Clapping does not stop the fatigue of frontline workers, does not create more hospital capacity, does not prevent death.

If you would like to help your heroes, do the things that are going to stop this pandemic. Keep your distance. Don’t mix households. Don’t meet up with others. Wear a mask. Stay at home. Get vaccinated. These things are hardso painfully hard, after all this timebut these are the things which are going to help.

So please remember your heroes, whether they’re in the NHS, in places of care, in shops, in schools, bringing your deliveries, or in just day to day life. As a nation and as individuals we are all tired, we are all lonely. We crave human interaction and a respite from our worries in these dark January days. A vaccine is here, some relief is coming. Help us get through these coming weeks and reduce the number of people who are dying. Support your heroes by following the rules, by not seeing those you love, by holding out that little bit longer. Let’s come together by staying apart.

And then when you’ve done that, clap.

Jennifer Darlow is a haematology ST5 trainee in the North West Deanery. She currently works at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, and is in training to become a paediatric haematologist.

Competing interests: None declared.