Kindness in a Pandemic -Behind the Mask with Dr Richard Rees
Updated: Feb 17
At a time that celebrates random acts of kindness, we take this opportunity to value a profession that holds some of the kindest of hearts. We have been going behind the mask to feature the incredible people who are dedicated keeping society well. The 2020 Vision Project features UK healthcare workers as part of a nationwide visual storytelling tribute.
Dr Richard Rees was nominated to be photographed by a colleague. He met portrait photographer Jude Wacks on London’s Parliament Hill for his photo session. The shoot was a short break from Richard’s intense work with the ICU* Family Liaison team at UCLH** – a far cry from his regular position in academic neurology. In this post not only do we share his account of coping with the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also of the difficulties faced in 2021.
Adaptation in a storm
Like many healthcare workers Dr Richard Rees had to think fast on his feet with the change in his role, as well as using technology to better serve patients during a crisis.
“As this virus took hold, I knew I wanted to be able to know that I had done 'my bit'. I didn't know what that would look like, but having been blessed with the education and training that would allow me to provide genuine help, I knew I must return to clinical practice." said Richard.
"I provided a crucial link between patients on the ICU and their families. I facilitated virtual visits, bringing families to the bedside through video conferencing software. But more than just being a glorified iPad holder in PPE, we provided the human touch and contact that the families so needed to see, and the patients needed to receive. We also supported families as they were allowed a final visit to say goodbye when the machines could do no more. Our work also alleviated a huge amount of stress from the critical care doctors and nurses, and helped them understand our patients as people.”
“After spending many weeks acting as an emotional conduit, and getting to know the families, the losses became personal and the grief became more real. This was exacerbated when we saw reflections of our own lives in those of our patients.”
Teamwork within the NHS
“The NHS is an incredible system, but it isn't always the most nimble. During the pandemic, I was privileged to work with the most diverse group of colleagues (paediatricians, orthopaedic surgeons, haematologists, urologists, organ donation nurses, academic dentists), who were united and with incredible speed and innovation, created a team that I am so proud to have been a part of."
"I've been so inspired by the kindness, resilience and initiative that has embodied this team and the health service in general.”
“I certainly didn't want to 'be a hero'. I know I have been stretched in ways I could not have imagined, and provided help and care to families in their hour of need. I see my involvement in this tribute as a representative of the team, for this period has been the best example of the team over the individual I have ever been privileged to experience.”
Photographing with a Cancer diagnosis
Jude Wacks joined the 2020 Vision Project back at its inception in March and she was very keen to make contact with healthcare workers to photograph for this project. Jude photographed Richard at one of his regular running locations. Richard uses his 12 mile cycle ride to work and regular exercise to recharge his batteries. On this summer's afternoon, Jude captured on camera, the clouds that formed serendipitously around Richard, like angels' wings.
“Perched high on the top of Parliament Hill Fields, with London as a backdrop provided a wonderful setting with a perfect cloud formation. It was very relaxed.“
However it was during one of her photo sessions for the project, that Jude received some very upsetting news, confirming her diagnosis of breast cancer.
“I was diagnosed in July, whilst shooting the 2020 Vision Project portraits. My diagnosis came the day I was due to photograph a breast cancer surgeon for the project.” Jude had to go into quarantine so she could undergo surgery in August. "
Luckily she was well enough to be able to attend the project's prestigious September showcase exhibition in London with her family. Her portrait of Dr Richard Rees was one the first exhibited photographs amongst 99 other beautiful portraits.
“I am currently undergoing chemotherapy and continuing to do what I love and thrive for - photography and giving a voice to people by telling their stories.”
Jude recently turned 52 and has been sharing her inspiring cancer story. In Jude's latest blog post she says, “I look ahead at the next 10 years of medication, radiotherapy, reconstruction, infusions and check-ups. I find it difficult to imagine myself a decade older, but realise the cancer journey once started is one that will accompany me for years to come. I guess it’s about alteration, adaption and growth.”
As Jude continues to bring her unique brand of portraiture to the world, we are very grateful for her for her contribution to this project.
Are we starting to turn a corner in 2021?
We've been looking for silver linings after such a devastating 2020. We have many examples of resilience and teamwork from hundreds of accounts collected throughout the 2020 Vision Project. We contacted Dr Richard Rees to get an update on how things are going. He said,
“The greatest things that we all as a society have gained is to show how resilient we can be. The pandemic has given rise to public sector workers being much more appreciated.”
But as we talked, it became obvious that the wake of the pandemic has laid bare many vulnerabilities. He went on to explain, “The level of morale is dreadfully low at work, People coming to work burnt out. Even as the rates of hospitalisation are going down, there is a backlog to take care of. Everyone is stretched to breaking point. There’ll be collateral damage for a while.”
So despite having an incredibly dedicated healthcare team, who are willing to pursue their profession despite all obstacles, they are suffering as they desperately find ways help to heal patients. Perhaps as a society, whilst this vital system lays itself bare, we can take this as an opportunity for a rethink how we value this life saving profession?
The NHS applause of spring 2020, showed an authentic nationwide appreciation of healthcare workers and was the inspiration for the 2020 Vision Project. Perhaps the real silver lining is that there are those who are doing there best to raise awareness. There's a movement formed out of the pandemic of people who are taking action to #buildbackbetter – for anyone reading this who wants to help change the narrative it maybe worth getting involved.
The 2020 Vision Project
The 2020 Vision Project is a collective of talented UK portrait photographers and visual storytellers. Each share their creative vision towards a visual commemoration of healthcare workers nationwide.
The ‘behind the mask’ 2020 Vision Project portraits, reflect our healthcare workers’ dedication, resilience, courage and teamwork throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We share the human story and over the coming weeks we will be highlighting stories, as we work towards more exhibitions of these beautiful validating portraits.
* ICU - Intensive Care Unit
** UCLH - University College Hospital in London