I’m an Oxford student. But I’m also an NHS worker, and I’m currently feeling a huge conflict between those two things.
To be clear, as a History student, I am not a doctor or nurse. However, I have worked in a GP surgery doing admin for several years. I’m not claiming that my job or situation is somehow worse or more difficult than all the final year medics graduating early to help on the NHS frontline, or even the finalists across Oxford who’ve been left in a difficult position at the crucial moment of their degrees. They’ve had their time at university cut short, and have been left with huge uncertainty about their futures. At the same time, no one has had their life unaffected by the virus, as the national lockdown enters its fourth week.
I’m acutely aware of how dire the situation is. My job is, to put it bluntly, to remove the records of patients who’ve died and send them to the central health authorities. Our surgery covers almost all the care homes in my borough, and the number of deaths in the past week has been terrifying, with people coming to collect death certificates from the admin centre several times a day.
Almost every admin member of staff is supposed to be working from home, starting this Monday, but I still need to go in because it would be almost impossible to do this particular job from home. Honestly, I’m not looking forward to going in to an empty office, when the only thing that had been keeping us all going was the camaraderie between co-workers.
To put it simply, I want to go back to Oxford! I want to go back desperately. As a first year, I feel like I’m missing out on what I came to Oxford for – the punting, the balls, working outside in the sunshine. I’ll miss my friends, scattered across the world, and I’ll even miss my tiny room, even though I did complain about it at every possible opportunity. I’ll miss the wonder I felt every day seeing the Radliffe Camera. But I’m aware that’s not realistic right now , and we probably won’t be returning until Michaelmas at the very least.
And in a couple of weeks, I’m supposed to sit collections. For me, that means two exams, but essentially three different topics. My Oxford friends (as well as a couple of school friends at Cambridge) have already started working and revising for their exams. I know collections aren’t important, but prelims being cancelled seems to have given them more weight; the rumours that we may have ‘prelims-style’ collections at the end of term haven’t helped either. In addition, I had planned work to do this vacation, outside of revision. The overwhelming guilt that I felt the whole of Hilary at Oxford, that I wasn’t working enough, or hard enough, or efficiently enough, has only got worse being home. The evenings and weekends are spent stressing about getting stuff done.
I know that, because of uni work, I’ll have to stop going to work in probably a week, to try and get it done before collections and the term starts again. There has been little clarity on what an online term really means for a History student, considering the fact our degree is, as my friend Luke jokes, essentially a very expensive library subscription. And the rules around paid work during terms means that I probably won’t be able to go back to work until June. That means I’ll be living within working distance of my work, able to help during this crisis but unable to because of university. The conflict between attending the university that I had dreamed of attending for years and the pressing urge to help during this pandemic – that none of us could ever have expected – is a difficult one, with no immediate resolution.
It seems that the university is pressing on with the ‘term carrying as normal’ approach. Hopefully there will be clarity soon, for all of our sakes.
Next time you’re going to clap for the NHS, spare a thought for the admin, cleaners, chefs, everyone behind the scenes who keep the healthcare system running and try their best to support the doctors and nurses hard at work. But most importantly, stay inside and stay safe, and if you can, volunteer to help others in your community and watch out for your friends and family.
We can all get through this – although it will be difficult – and I look forward to seeing everyone again in Michaelmas.