Alone behind my desk, the clock reads 4am, half-way into my eight-hour long shift as a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital. When I first started at the hospital, during the week that lock-down was rolled out across the country in March, it was dark until nearly the end of my shift, now light shines through the window well before then. It has been more than two months.
Even without the darkness the hospital is eerie at night. Aside from the faint far-off buzz of an alarm and the occasional ring of the telephone, it is completely silent. The quiet is isolating at times, especially on the last few nights of my shift pattern, when I am out of sync to everyone else around me. It is like living in a different time-zone, but one that only I exist in.
I retreat into a dark sort of hole with almost no communication with the outside world. However, the quiet is better than when it is loud. People can be loud in the middle of the night, even if all they say is their name and their date of birth, even if they don’t say anything. They are cast in an odd glow from the blue blaring lights of the police car outside that has brought them in for assessment.
I know that I am very lucky. At a time where more than eight million people are on furlough and where many of the traditional sectors that students choose to work in such as hospitality cannot operate, I am very lucky to have a job. Many of my friends have spent lock-down searching for any type of work, but aside from a lucky few that succeeded in getting a job in a supermarket, many have found nothing and are worried about how they will manage to finance next year.
My job is not difficult, I answer the phone, I operate the opening of the doors, I tie a surgical mask around my mouth before asking the patient a series of pre-set questions. Name. Date of Birth. Have you had a new onset persistent cough in the past three days? Have you got a fever? Has anyone in your household exhibited symptoms of coronavirus?
Yet everything seems so much more dramatic in the middle of the night. Sometimes as I read the questions off of my clipboard my head spins back to what my life was like in Edinburgh only a few months ago. My first year of university seems like a weird fever dream of clubbing and coffeeshops with the occasional essay squeezed in between them.
It was fast-paced, and sometimes I did feel I was struggling to keep up, but I would rather that than the snail’s pace of my life during lockdown. The days pass very slowly because of the repetition of my actions: I exercise, I go to work, I call my friends, I go to sleep, day after day after day. But things have begun to change. After weeks of only seeing my friend’s face on my phone-screen I was able to sit in the park with them on the sunniest day I’ve ever known in Scotland.
I could almost pretend this was just another hang-out in the park after school, except for our two-meter distance on either side of the picnic blanket. For so long, I looked at my calendar and only saw empty white squares but now the dates are beginning to have meaning again.
It will be a long time before we return to normality. Some kind of restrictions are expected to be held in place in the UK until the end of the year. We must remain vigilant against the virus so that we can see the people we miss the most. If we keep following the guidelines things will improve. When I started my job in March the sun wouldn’t rise until near the end of my shift. Now I watch the sunrise in a time I would have thought of as night. The sun will continue to rise and everything will be okay.
Illustration Credit: Manvir Dobb