Arclight Project Update: Where are we now and Where to next?

Hello everyone. Some time and many things have passed since the last time I wrote in this blog. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the world has changed. This is true not only systemically speaking, but on an individual level for so many people. Myself included.

In May I rode my motorcycle to Leicester to work in ICU in response to the COVID crisis. If you are interested, I wrote a longer piece telling some stories about this time. I feel as though it could be oversharing, but they are truthful reflections about my experiences and give descriptive insight into intensive care nursing in the Coronavirus era.

Despite the heavy work in Leicester, there have been some lighter times and welcome ghosts of proper humanity as we used to know it. This is demonstrated well in one rollercoaster of a story about the the theft of my motorcycle two days into my stay in Leicester – you can read it here.

With my last shift in ICU completed only now do I feel I can gently expand the scope of my attention to other things. I became so fixated on doing a good job in ICU (a hard task in two months) that energy normally directed to other pursuits had to be borrowed. I worked a one-day-on-one-day-off shift pattern throughout my time in Leicester. After 12 and a half hours in the prickly heat of PPE and experiencing such tragedy through the mask, the days off were occupied with necessary mindlessness. Also, after about two weeks of the hospital egg and cress sandwiches, the consistency (or rather Inconsistency) of my bowels told me that it was time to bring my own food to work. Those days became valuable time to sleep, prep better meals and do some form of exercise. Whatever I got up to, they certainly were not for thinking.

The attention and energy needed to do this job, which was hoarded in from every available store, will now begin to be re-distributed. However, how it is re assigned echoes my opening statement – at this early point, I can already feel that it is not the same spread as before this all happened. These experiences have the potential to polarise thoughts, re-shuffling priorities and in turn change how we act.

So where are we now with the Arclight Project?

The last months have been surprisingly fruitful for the Arclight India Project. I was awarded an R&A International Scholarship by the University of St Andrews which alleviates much of the stress of fundraising. It also is sentimentally very rewarding to be supported by the university of which I was proud and happy student for three years. There is no doubt that the support garnered in preparation for this project will have been instrumental in demonstrating its viability to the panel of the R&A. So, again, thank you to all that have donated. A big thank you also to BBR Optometry for their ongoing support.

In other news, I graduated yesterday with a First-Class BSc in Medicine after writing a dissertation on Mindfulness Meditation for patients with chronic pain. Having experience with both of these, the thesis was actually a joy to write. The good grade felt like an undeserved coup, but none the less a welcome achievement.  

The Covid situation in India

From what I have been able to read and understand from my friends in India, the situation with covid is deteriorating. India is a subcontinent with a population of 1.3 billion. As such, there will not be a uniform experience of Coronavirus for the whole country at the same time. At the height of the outbreak in Delhi, it is estimated that half of the cities people had covid-19, whereas now it is flaring up elsewhere with similar intensity.

Overall, the Coronavirus will affect the poor more than it can affect those with easy access to functional healthcare. This piece is a shocking example of how Bihar, India’s poorest state, is struggling to provide basic healthcare for the sick:

I felt wounded after watching this, with my time working in a state-of-the-art ICU fresh in memory. Even in a world-class healthcare system, there were many people that we could not save. If India are going to treat the patients sick with Covid-19, they will need ventilators, drugs, PPE, staff and beds. All of which are lacking in a system for the poor who cannot afford private healthcare. I shudder, in fact, at how bad it could be going forwards and I wish there was more I could do.

Although we appear to be in a small window of calmness here in the UK, the inferno continues abroad. I have faith that a solution will come in some form, but for now it seems as though all we can do is accept what we do not have the power to change.

It still is the case that coming out of this pandemic there will be immense need for international projects to re-build in areas neglected because of coronavirus. So, holding on to that, I accepted the R&A’s scholarship and will continue to gradually develop the project for a time when it is appropriate to go ahead with it.

And, with that, where to next?

St Andrews is a wee town surrounded by rolling green hills where the rising sun emerges over an infinite liquid horizon each morning. Its coast is lined with yellow gorse and awash with the white flower of wild garlic in the early summer months. It offers so much to its students, from world-class academia to adventure, but owed to not having a large hospital, it cannot give complete clinical training to its medical students. For three years of clinical training, medical students of St Andrews transfer to a larger university.

Following the postponement of the project in India, my clinical training was set to begin at Glasgow in September. However, their response to the Covid crisis has been to cancel third year placements until February and deliver the course entirely online.

So, I find myself in an interesting place – a privileged time of unrestrained freedom. Right now, in the ‘summer holidays’, I have no university to answer to, no work commitments and no relationships that demand anything of me.

With India not a possible venture this year, I have decided to ride my old motorcycle to Italy. There I will work on a farm, studying medicine from my laptop in the early mornings and evenings, picking olives and caring for animals in the day. For medical students, who normally spend every day in classes whilst friends in other subjects enjoy a softer timetable, this is an unprecedented offer of independence.

My time in Leicester has left me tired. I am in need of a re-connect with nature and some fresh stimulus to adjust the covid polarisation of my thoughts. I welcome the sun, the opportunity to learn a new language, the physicality of farming and a large dose of open space to enter my capillary system for system-wide nourishment. All this can be found in Tuscany, so this is where I will go.

Despite alluring £10 flights to Milan, the idea of air travel at this time makes uncomfortable.  There are too many opportunities for unsafe social practice with people I don’t know along the way. It is my priority not to bring significant risk into a foreign country or region that I am visit. Whilst no travel is 100% safe, there are simple rules that can mitigate the risk. In the ICU, I received impeccable training in biohazard mitigation and have become acutely sensitised to the devastating harm that reckless social practice can have on individuals and families. I am well prepared with the skills and attitude to travel safely.

My Josephine Honda is a 400cc dirt bike made in 1998, almost as old as I am. She was never designed to share a motorway with Herr Audi and Volkswagen. As such, a special way is needed to get us both to Italy. I will ride 3,500km of the Trans European Trail – a mapped out route through Europe comprising of off-road trails and mountain passes only.

The route will take me through middle France’s many woodlands, down into the Pyrenees where the green hills echo with cattle bells, before heading east over the great Alps into Italy. Of course, there is a trade-off between adventure and time efficiency. This intrepid path indulges in wilderness and stunning natural beauty; however, it is long and very slow compared to motorway travel. I am giving myself three weeks to make it, camping each night on the way.

I will be at home in Hereford until the 14th August, sleeping and preparing my bike for the adventure. For the last month I lived on my own in an empty accommodation complex built for 2000 students. I was very ready to get back home and be with my family again.

I will be posting with updates on the road to Italy. Holler my way with any comments, thoughts and ideas, always keen to hear them.

For now, Ciao a tutti !

Arclight Project Update: Where are we now and Where to next?
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