"How do you sum up COVID-19 from the ICU coalface?" - Prof Brian Allwood


Professor Brian Allwood is an award-winning pulmonologist who spent 2020 working in the COVID-19 ICU at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. He shares his experience of the pandemic and of being among the first to get the vaccine against COVID-19.

Listen: Prof Brian Allwood describes his experience at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Professor Brian Allwood says the vaccine is an important step for all South Africans to take in the fight against COVID-19. "People ask me if the vaccine is safe, and my answer is that I've had it. Nothing speaks louder than that."

The recipient of the 2016 Discovery Foundation MGH Award spent a year at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US where he learned life-saving principles. In 2020, he worked at the forefront of the pandemic in the COVID-19 intensive-care unit at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town.

Prof Allwood takes us to the coalface of COVID-19

The 46-year-old shares his inside view of the pandemic: "How do you sum up COVID-19 from the ICU coalface? It's been intense, and that's the understatement of the year. In the critical-care unit we've seen the sickest of the sick patients, and we've seen unprecedented deaths."

"It's been almost a year to the day since we admitted our first patient at Tygerberg Hospital into the ICU," he reflects. "There have been some real moments of success and victory and then there have been moments of desperation and heart break when we lost patients that we tried so hard to save."

"I try to keep perspective"

How does he cope with the pressure and heartache? "Everybody around the world has felt the impact of lockdown and COVID-19. Personally, I've tried to cope by keeping perspective and, where possible, I try to keep a sense of humour."

"I try to give as much as I can when I'm at work," he adds. "When I leave, I try to do things that will restore and refocus me - things like going for walks, spending time with family, having a quiet drink, sitting outside. Nature and cycling can be very restorative."

Vaccine puts a spring in Prof Allwood's step

"One of the high moments that stands out is getting the first vaccines into our hospital," Prof Allwood says. "I was very fortunate to be among the first people to get the vaccine. I got mine on day two [18 February 2021] of the vaccine rollout of South Africa."

He says taking the vaccine is like letting go of your breath after holding it for a year. "There's a sense of relief that you have some level of protection against this virus. You almost feel a little bit lighter."

Pulmonologist Prof Brian Allwood was among the first to get the vaccine against COVID-19.

"It's not to say you can't still get the virus or that you can abandon all the PPE or the hand washing," he adds, "but on a personal level it has made my walk to the hospital a little easier and it's put a spring in my step from day to day."

"We must get vaccinated for our loved ones"

His message to all of us? "We all want to get over this. We all want to look at COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror. The vaccine is a really important step in getting a level of immunity that will mean COVID-19 is a thing of the past. We need to consider the benefits of these vaccines as they relate to the risks. And we must remember that new data is coming out daily."

"One of the things we need to realise is that the people who are most at risk from COVID-19 are probably not ourselves," Prof Allwood says. "We must get vaccinated with this in mind."

"Yes, the vaccine will protect you, but it's also going to protect the people you love and those who are vulnerable in our society," he concludes. "If we all get vaccinated, the level of immunity rises and all those people are protected. I would encourage everyone to get vaccinated so that everyone's protected."

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