Surrey Freemasons reflect on their work as front-line doctors in the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic

Friday, 24 July 2020

As we ease ourselves out of lockdown, Colin Pizey photographs and speaks with some of those on frontline duty

As we return to an adjusted sense of normality, we should reflect on the selfless acts of kindness and support given by so many during this crisis. These include, but are not limited to, the army of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff who have struggled, day-after-day, to care for those afflicted by COVID-19.

One such person is Marlon Orio, a frontline anaesthetic nurse at Kingston Hospital. Originally from the Philippines, Marlon is a husband and father. He is also the Immediate Past Master of Lorne Lodge No. 1347 in Surrey.

During the pandemic, his duties at Kingston Hospital have included preparing patients’ drugs and airways, whilst assisting anaesthetists. It has also been his responsibility to ensure equipment such as anaesthetic machines and ventilators work and stay working.

During the peak of the pandemic, Marlon shared his thoughts and fears:

'It is an especially difficult time and we feel particularly vulnerable. We are directly in contact with our patients whenever we intubate them, which is scary. I sometimes need to troubleshoot their life support machines, which further increases my own risk of infection.

'We work 12 hour shifts and going into a COVID ward feels like walking in a sea of COVID virus.

'I have never been so scared.'

Marlon comes across as a kind and humble man, fearing for his family, his friends, and his patients. Marlon’s friend Ernest Penuela, Mentor at Lorne Lodge, has also been working in COVID wards. He adds:

'12 hour shifts in COVID Intensive Care, wearing full PPE, is not just cumbersome, but also uncomfortable, restrictive and physically draining. I am always thirsty and feel trapped inside a claustrophobic nightmare. It is like preparing to go to war every shift.

'Some of our patients don’t make it and it's so painful to see them die alone. Every time we go home we are afraid we might inadvertently infect our own families.'

Such medical staff also need ongoing support, and training, to be able to do their jobs effectively.

Educating NHS and private sector health workers during COVID, has therefore required educators to rethink how they deliver essential emergency care training. Venues have been closed, in-hospital training suspended, and staff redeployed to clinical areas. 

Jo Lawrence, Managing Director of Back to Life, is therefore especially thankful to Surrey Freemasons for helping them to deliver this crucial training, despite the challenges of the Pandemic, with Surbiton Masonic Halls stepping-in as an alternative emergency training venue for their ‘Advanced Life Support’ courses. 

The Masonic Benevolent Fund has also provided face visors for those training courses. This means, with adaptions to the original training programme to incorporate COVID scenarios, health workers have been able to continue rehearsing their emergency responses, whilst wearing appropriate PPE, and within the safe environment of Surbiton’s Glenmore House.

Facing COVID is a challenge for everyone, so it is good to see frontline medical staff also receiving the training and support which they need.

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