Northwick Park Hospital surgeon on coronavirus: ‘I have never seen something this aggressive’

Welwyn Hatfield Cllr Sunny Thusu has been working as a surgeon with coronavirus patients. Picture: S

Welwyn Hatfield Cllr Sunny Thusu has been working as a surgeon with coronavirus patients. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

A Northwick Park Hospital surgeon who survived coronavirus has given an insights into treating patients on the frontline.

Sunny Thusu works for London North West University Healthcare at Northwick Park Hospital and occasionally at Watford General Hospital in Hertfordshire.

At the onset of the virus, he said many doctors were worried about a shortage of ventilators, which was the leading treatment for coronavirus patients, and that now he has been asked to perform tracheotomies.

Dr Thusu, who is also borough councillor for Welwyn West in Hertfordshire, said patients are also put in positions which open the air passage while being supplied oxygen.

He said shifts at the hospital have been particularly hard on intensive critical unit (ICU) staff who are constantly around coronavirus patients.

“We don’t know what will happen after but I think it will be like when people get back from a war zone,” he said.

“All the nurses who have worked on the frontline – A&E and ICU – think about ‘what happens if I get it and the impact on my family’.”

Most Read

The surgeon – who admits to being a little overweight with underlying health conditions – said he knows acutely what coronavirus patients are going through, having had the illness himself.

“I was anxious in the early days,” he said. “I had the classic symptoms [of shortness of breath, high fever and loss of smell] pretty early in March.”

When he had the symptoms, and later tested positive, he had to live apart from his wife and children to self-isolate.

Dr Thusu thought he would have really severe symptoms, being from a BAME background, and started looking at his life insurance and what arrangements he could make with his wife for the future.

However, he recovered and was able to return to work.

One of his friends – a cancer surgeon at the same hospital with a Malaysian background – became severely ill.

“I wasn’t surprised [that health workers would die],” he said. “They are many from ethnic groups, who seem to be affected more.

“It’s a tragedy, but did they die because there wasn’t enough protection or because they were more susceptible?”

He said that as health care workers are continually exposed to “high-level patients” with high viral loads, even with the best personal protective equipment (PPE) there is still some danger.

Dr Thusu, who has worked in West Africa on Mercy Ships, during the swine flu crisis in London and volunteered in India before becoming a doctor, said: “There is still a lot we don’t know. I have never seen something this aggressive.”

PPE has not been an issue for him, but Dr Thusu praised the work done locally to make masks and scrubs: “The sheer volume we’re going through. There’s going to be issues.”

He said health workers were told at his hospital that if they do not feel safe then they should not continue with a procedure. He said there has been a lot of work done to help NHS staff with mental health issues during the crisis.

What he is most worried about is catching up with other medical procedures, as fewer people are using A&E and seeing their doctor during the crisis.

Additionally, some cancer patients have not been referred to hospitals, and in those cases delay could mean the difference between life-saving and palliative treatment.

“Increasing capacity for clinics will be the next big issue,” he said.

He added that people still need to go to their GP, urgent care centres and A&E if they are unwell.

Since the coronavirus peak, Dr Thusu’s workload has now decreased: “My only fear is there will be a second peak. I really wouldn’t be surprised if there was.”

He expects this may come once the lockdown has lifted if people do not continue social distancing.

“It’s difficult in lockdown and we cannot go on indefinitely,” he said, adding that the vulnerable will at least be shielding for three more months.

Dr Thusu is also helping Oxford University with a coronavirus vaccine trial, sending a sample of his blood off to be tested, and hopes that will be a way to help work towards a vaccine.