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9

Diary of a pandemic

As a superintendent radiographer working during the Covid-19 pandemic, Kyle Tallett FRPS has found himself on the frontline. Part of a dedicated team at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, he decided to photograph his colleagues as they helped diagnose case after case of the virus.

 

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The NHS is more than just doctors and nurses. We are radiographers. We use ionising radiation to produce images that allow pathology to be diagnosed, either with plain X-rays or CT scans. We are all graduates at a minimum, and many like me are postgraduate qualified.

I am based in a district general hospital in the south-east of England. My department, whose members hail from all around the world, has a team spirit second to none. When it became clear that Covid-19 had reached our shores we began to make preparations.

In late March 2020 we were starting to see a rising number of cases. We had refresher training on use of PPE and then instituted a resilience rota. This split all of our staff into small teams that would do their hours in three days and then be away from the department for several days to reduce the chance of the entire team being infected.

I was taken off my normal duties of interpreting images and managerial roles and put back on the frontline as a jobbing radiographer, albeit with 36 years’ experience. I loved it. Being a photographer, I also decided to take images to document my team’s experience, something to remind us of our work during the pandemic. There were strict rules – I had to do my job first, my colleagues had to give permission, no patients or other staff groups were to be imaged, and I had to make sure neither I nor my equipment were infected. I used an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark I and 12-40mm f/2.8 with disposable coverings.

Patients coming into the hospital who were suspected of having Covid-19 were seen in a separate isolated respiratory emergency department. Early in the pandemic swab testing wasn’t widespread, and the result isn’t instantaneous in any case. Therefore, blood tests and a chest X-ray were used to establish a Covid-19 infection and exclude another illness.

To do this we had to firstly dress in PPE and use other coverings to protect our kit. We used a Fujifilm mobile X-ray unit. It had a wireless detector which gave us an image to view in three seconds without having to take the detector off somewhere else to process. This image was sent wirelessly to the image storage system so it could be viewed on a computer anywhere in the trust. We had only had this system for two years – it would have been seriously difficult to do this with film or on our previous computed radiography system.

Our patient worklist also updated wirelessly. We often went to examine one patient and during that time another ten were brought in. We were able to examine these patients as well without leaving the emergency department. For existing inpatients with Covid-19, depending on their condition, we could go to the patient with a mobile machine or have the patient come to us and our designated room. CT scanning was also used for patients whose diagnosis was uncertain and deteriorating, those on or about to go to intensive care, and those suspected of having a pulmonary embolism. My colleagues had to wear PPE for the scan and do a clean-down after each patient.

We were in the forefront of diagnosing patients and monitoring their condition. All work was done in PPE which meant for all patients we wore a surgical mask, apron and gloves. With suspected infectious patients we wore hats, visors, mask, apron and gloves. All the patients could see of us was our eyes; all we saw of other professionals was their eyes.

My abiding memory of this crisis has been teamwork, eye contact and calm professionalism from all.

 

All images by Kyle Tallett FRPS

Main image: Kyle Tallett about to go into full PPE

Left, top to bottom: Normal PPE used for all patients; mobile machine approaching ED; a proud colleague; eye contact

Right, top to bottom: Taking a seat at the end of a night shift; loading the pump in CT; mobile unit in use; putting on the mask