Illustration of people wearing face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic

On the Frontline: A Day in the Life of Two NHS Workers

As most of us have adjusted to "the new normal” at home, our NHS staff have been tackling the pandemic head-on. Consultant Anaesthetist Sonali Thakrar usually cares for patients undergoing cancer surgeries, but when Covid-19 hit, her and her team had to prepare for the worst. Meanwhile, Anaesthetic Trainee Jaimin Arya was moved to the ICU when the pandemic started and has been there ever since. Here, they share an honest insight into their experience, from the realities of working in full PPE and the mental health impact, to what they’re most looking forward to doing once life opens up again.

What do your days typically look like?

ST: We’ve just returned to a normal-ish rota. Every 2 weeks I do a 24-hour on-call, so I’m in during the day but then at night I cover. Last night, for example, I was in from 7am, got home around 6:30pm and was then called back in for an emergency procedure, so I got home around midnight.

When I’m not on call, I’m providing anaesthesia for major cancer surgeries in one of our London teaching hospitals.

JA: My working day starts at 7:45 which means I usually wake up around 6:15. Due to Covid all shifts are 12.5 hours, so I normally finish around 20:15 or the opposite for a night shift. Currently, I’m working on the Intensive Care Unit, meaning that the patients we have are quite unwell and need a lot of input. We discuss the patients with consultants before gearing ourselves up to go into the ‘hot zone’ (the area of ventilated Covid patients where we must wear full PPE at all times).

How tough is it to be under the PPE?

ST: It’s hot and sweaty and tiring. In operating theatres we have to be in advanced PPE, so that means we wear a hat, a visor, a special FFP3 mask, a gown, scrubs and two sets of gloves.

Before we gear up, we all go for a loo break, have a big bottle of water to drink and eat something, because you’re in it for a few hours. The other problem is that you can’t hear each other very well, so we talk through all the critical steps that might occur during a procedure and how we’re going to communicate with each other.

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Ahead of the NHS birthday on 5 July, Sonali Thakrar, a Consultant Anesthetist at Imperial College NHS Trust, shares a special message of thanks to those who have kept her going and helped the NHS respond to coronavirus. ⁣ ⁣ “I am grateful to all of my colleagues and everyone in the NHS who has worked so very hard and made their own personal sacrifices through this unprecedented time – also a huge thank you to my husband for working tirelessly to continue providing care as a GP from our front room, whilst also doing a stellar job with the home schooling!” ⁣ ⁣ Join us on Sunday 5 July at 5pm, for a nation-wide clap to say thank you to everyone who has helped during the pandemic. From delivery drivers to shop workers and volunteers, we’re grateful to everyone who has come together to support the NHS. ?? ⁣ ⁣ To read more on Sonali’s experience during the coronavirus pandemic, visit @allthingshairuk⁣ ⁣ #ThankYouTogether #NHSBirthday #NHSLondon #NHS

A post shared by NHS London (@nhsenglandldn) on

JA: Personally, I find it very tough. I need to make sure I’m clean-shaven for a shift to get a good seal with the masks we use to ensure there’s no leakage. The masks need to be on tight to create a seal which can cause sores on the face as I’m sure many people have seen in pictures in the news. But they can also cause headaches and at the beginning made me feel extremely nauseous.

What’s your hygiene routine like during the day and once you get home?

ST: I go into hospital in my own clothes (I’ve bought a new wardrobe essentially, so lots of leggings and jumpers that I can just throw in the wash). I change into scrubs and then, if I’ve had a Covid positive patient, I actually change scrubs and shower between patients. At the end of the day we change out of our scrubs into our own clothes and I come home, dump my clothes in the washing machine and I have a second shower.

JA: During the day it’s continuously washing hands with either soap and water or alcohol gel. I think paranoia did set in at the beginning with a lot of us constantly washing our hands after touching any surface as so little was known about the virus. When I get home, I try not to touch anything and go straight into the shower and chuck my clothes in the wash. This is for two reasons; not to contaminate anything at home and also to not put the people I live with at risk.

Are you currently isolating from family?

ST: My social situation is a bit different, I’m married with two young kids but my husband is shielding, unfortunately. We’re both doctors but he’s working from home, so I’ve been living away from home for nearly three months now. We have a routine, I finish work and go see the kids through the door and we’re doing lots of FaceTime.

I definitely have had moments of feeling extremely down due to the nature of work and not being able to see loved ones, it really took a toll on me and I was unsure how to manage my emotions.
Jaimin Arya, Anaesthetic Trainee

JA: I haven’t seen my family at all since lockdown began which has been extremely tough as normally I would see them every 2 weeks. Even tougher has been not seeing my fiancé, who for the first two months was incredibly difficult for me not to see. She has been incredible throughout, checking up on me, calling me regularly and dropping me food at any chance she can get.

What do you do to unwind after your shifts?

ST: Most nights I come home, have a big bowl of food and sit in front of the TV! My son is at the age where he’s old enough to ask his dad if he can use the phone to call me up, so we’ll have a little chat and that’s really nice.

JA: A few fitness and mindfulness apps have been giving free trials to NHS staff which I’m extremely grateful for and have helped me personally. And of course, FaceTiming friends and family as much as I can.

Have you faced any emotional or physical effects of working in this high-stress environment?

ST: Definitely, I think so. Most of us have actually said it’s been really difficult to sleep at night, especially at the beginning when we were hearing all of the terrible stories from Italy. We were preparing for the absolute worst and we were anxious about it and how we were going to manage. It’s the change in routine and not knowing what the next day is going to be like.

JA: I definitely have had moments of feeling extremely down due to the nature of work and not being able to see loved ones, it really took a toll on me and I was unsure how to manage my emotions. It has definitely helped being able to meet friends and family at a 2m distance now. Physically, I try and moisturise my skin everyday, however my hair is unfortunately thinning and has potentially got worse since this pandemic!

What hygiene advice would you give people?

ST: Soap and water is the best thing to kill the bug we think, so the single most important thing you can do is regularly wash your hands. I think it’s just being extra cautious but I was probably washing my hair more often too, just because we had been sweating in the PPE all day and you’re not looking after your hair as much as normal times.

Sometimes you go into Tesco and it’s a bit rammed, despite all of their efforts, so I do think it’s sensible to wear a face-covering at times too when you can’t social distance so easily.

JA: The main government advice still stands – wash your hands as often as you can and take hand sanitiser with you if you’re going to be touching surfaces. There isn’t any scientific evidence that you need to wash your hair more, but personally, working in a high-risk environment I’ve been washing my hair after every shift too.

What do you miss the most about pre-Covid life?

ST: My children, I miss seeing my kids. I miss going out for dinners or popping into Westfield, I think we took for granted how easy it was to get out of the house.

JA: The ease of seeing my fiancé, family and friends is what I miss the most, they’re such an integral part of my life. We take it all for granted, so I think this weird, strange period has definitely allowed us to analyse life and be grateful for the simplest of things.

>What is the first thing you’ll do when life opens up again?

ST: Get my nails done! I like to have them done every couple of months, I miss having a facial. With my hair,  I get a keratin treatment put into it every 5 months, so I’m due another treatment, although I’m managing okay and my hair is probably the longest it’s ever been! Now that things have calmed down slightly, I’m curling it when I wash it and beautifying myself a bit more because I was so miserable through those three months! It makes you feel better.

JA: Give my fiancé a hug and go on a date night! Oh, and finally begin to plan our wedding!

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Editor’s tip: If like Sonali you too are craving your salon experiences during the lockdown, fret not, as you can still give yourself a little TLC with an at-home treatment using the TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Shampoo and Conditioner for incredibly soft, smooth, and shiny locks. And, if you’re after extra indulgence, follow up with the TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Mask.


From all of us here at All Things Hair, we’d like to thank Sonali, Jaimin and all of the incredible NHS staff and key workers for everything they do for us – you’re amazing. And to our readers, we hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and well during this time.


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