Ami Sawran, veterinary surgeon

Lessons from lockdown

Ami Sawran, veterinary surgeon

When I’m looking at all of this as a calm and rational person, lockdown is a situation in which I can truly take stock of the things I have taken for granted in my professional and personal life. It is also a catalyst for reaffirming just how grateful I am for the good things in my life; for example, the fact that neither my partner nor I have been driven up the wall by the other’s constant presence, typing, or thinking too loudly, the fact that my dog is truly hilarious, and that my shed really did need a good tidy-out. I’ve painted all my kitchen furniture, built the dog and obstacle course, and I’ve also learned to knit, which I think is fascinating, but I can see that people are going to get bored of my enthusiastic creations very soon.

I’ve found that connection and communication can be both a blessing and a curse in this time. Conversation is wonderful, but I must be in the mood for it, hence appearing ‘always available’ because we cannot go anywhere can feel a little overwhelming. It has also been difficult to distance myself from work because my office is about 5 metres from my bedroom. I’ve had to set firmer boundaries about my ‘free’ time and work time, because they’re not delineated by a commute anymore. Social media has also been an absolute riot – I love watching people do kind, community spirited things, but I also have quickly come to hate watching bored people bitch at each other or get into verbose competitions about who is doing lockdown better. I have to take my social media time in short bursts, or I can lose a day to mindless and frankly depressing chatter about nothing at all. Again, when I’m being fair and rational, I can see that many people are just scared and looking to blame someone for their feels, but in the moment, it can be a bit much. But I have to say, groups such as Vets: Stay Go or Diversify have been really fun, and my (non-vet) friend has started a venture called ‘Quiz Nights for the Quarantine’, which has kept me entertained. I have also taken a weird few days of annual leave, which saw me planted firmly in front of Netflix for eight-hour long stretches, and I’m not even remotely sorry for that. It was great.

This has not all been a lesson in how grateful and lucky I am; I’ve had my down times. Sudden restriction on anyone’s freedom is bound to make them feel things ranging from ‘a bit out of sorts’ to downright depressed, anxious and insecure and frightened. I recognise that with a stable home and job, I am one of the lucky ones. Nevertheless, I’ve had days where I have had a big cry and mourned the (seemingly irrelevant) things I was looking forward to which have been cancelled. I’ve had a cry solely dedicated to fear of getting sick myself, or loved ones being ill. I’ve also had days where I just felt entirely flat, without being able to pinpoint a real reason. I feel like this fluctuation in mood and hopefulness is normal, at least, that’s what I am telling myself. Boring as it sounds, I am helped by simply taking each day as it comes, because I genuinely don’t have any choice but to.

My anxiety generally flares in situations where I can’t make plans or get things done in an agreeable (and potentially unreasonable) timescale. Luckily, from the outset, my company (VetPartners) was incredibly proactive in collating information and providing guidelines to support our daily activities.  Thus, I’ve been able to surrender myself to the mysterious inevitability of it all. We had good boundaries in place and fora in which to ask questions. Vets immediately started to work from home, and luckily, we have good enough IT to make remote working very easy. This helped settle me personally, so then I, with the help of the rest of Westpoint’s wellbeing group, decided to create a resource that would help other people adjust to working from home, westpointwellbeing.com. The site is open to contributors, but for the most part I have been posting daily work-from-home workouts, and linking to good procrastination outlets, free CPD, and tips for productive work from home. I started a VetPartners run club on Strava, to coax some running motivation too. We also had some excellent resources disseminated by our wonderful marketing manager, who provides a social round-up every week.

In terms of managing my team, we are incredibly lucky to be a close-knit and team-spirited group. Our Whatsapp game has been upped considerably, and we are using video chats to get together at least once a week to check-in. I’ve had to make our in-office positives board (where we record good feedback and achievements) more of a virtual thing now, but it redoubles my efforts to relay great feedback to the team. I already knew that I worked with a nice group, but being in this difficult situation has truly meant that we have pulled together and every single person has made a demonstrable effort to make other teammates lives easier, the days run more smoothly, and keep the impact on clients as minimal as possible. We may even be communicating with them more than ever now. Clients have also been very helpful in maintaining social distancing – our company policy on this is firm and repeated often to keep us safe. I’ve been dutifully watched from afar when tending to sick animals without their usual handler (sometimes with retrospectively hilarious results). I’ve gotten very good at utilising random objects for safe restraint. Though it can be difficult to safely work around large animals at the best of times, our clients have been kind and thoughtful in their approach to our visits.

In fact, lessons have been learned about how we can still all connect while apart, and I think we will carry those forward into the future normality – whatever that looks like.

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