Tom Downs - Kindness, bringing out the best in us (Part 3)

Today I was on the phone to the local growers cooperative Tyddn Teg who had prepared a vegetable box for me. I wasn’t expecting this, but they told me how they had been preparing them for all NHS workers. As I was walking along the Menai Strait, this got me thinking and reflecting on the kindness which has had an impact on me over the last few months.

Many have not seen their family for some time now; for some of my first year Doctor colleagues, including myself, this is probably the longest we have been without seeing family.  It was just the other day that the most physical contact I’d had for months was out on a walk - I made friends with a donkey (I am not sure that feeding donkeys is in the COVID rulebook!).

What we have all been through together has brought us closer. Our hospital Green Group, developed with the support of my Bevan Exemplar project, has had to adapt; we have been acting as a support network in recent months.

So, here is a list of the kind acts I have been impacted by recently. I want to share them to further show my appreciation. It may just uplift anyone who reads this, or inspire someone to pass on the kindness! I am sure similar acts like these have been going on across the length and breadth of Wales, and around the world. It is all these little things which leave a big impact that have got us through the last few months.

The hospital garden

Locked in with nowhere to go, I started a garden at the hospital accommodation at the beginning of April. The garden was an opportunity for many to show their generosity! I felt inspired and asked for advice from Charles Dowding on a no-dig method, he gave me the confidence to just have a go and get stuck in. As this is my first year of growing. There was no funding and no permission for this! The cardboard boxes that were from the donations of furniture to the doctors mess were used to lie over the grass. And the old gutter that fell off in a storm held in the compost! Soon after getting a few seedlings in, one of the consultants in acute medicine is running in on his way to work on the COVID wards with a red watering can for the garden.

He calls it the sanity garden. People helped donate seedlings, gardening magazines, seeds, tools and topsoil. Although the garden isn’t much, it has helped create some community, a new doctor moved into the accommodation and bought a mint plant so it can go in the garden. It has also been a talking point amongst my patients who are happy to share their gardening tips! We recently had new interim Foundation Doctors, they will be living in the accommodation next year and said how they will try and keep it alive  (if I haven’t killed all the plants by then!!). I must also mention the trees we got donated from the NHS forest as-well- the aim is to get these in in autumn!

Homemade items

In my last blog, I talked about receiving masks homemade by local Iranian refugees. Since then, we have received more masks from them along with laundry bags full of homemade masks from the local Extinction Rebellion group, I picked these up from colleagues in the Estates department and when dropping off these large bags of donations to the wards, the nurses, health carers seemed to be genuinely appreciative and uplifted from these generous donations! I also received some great homemade scrubs as-well at one point (that I get some compliments about, and I joke that I have joined the pharmacists team!).

Everyone coming together

In the hospital, everyone has been coming together and helping out. On one ward, following patients testing positive, everyone including the doctors have helped give the ward a deep clean. Some have been going out to buy clothes and food for patients, as it’s very challenging now without family being able to visit. My consultant even brought me in a vegan curry one day! Also, when I’ve forgotten my wallet (it happens more than you would expect!) my registrar hasn’t hesitated to buy me breakfast before theatre.

Vegetable boxes

I am now getting weekly veg boxes from Tyddn Tegg. Prior to this, locals had dropped off veg boxes for us in the hospital accommodation. When I tested positive for coronavirus and our flat was in isolation, the local spa shop came and delivered several large boxes of essentials.

An escape

In North Wales, we are a prime holiday destination, leading to fears of re-opening up after lockdown too soon. It has also meant many people have holiday lettings that are empty- they have been letting health care workers stay in these often for free. I was on call when a flat mate got in touch to ask if I would like to move into one; that same day I moved in during a busy on-call shift. The owners have been very kind and welcoming. I have a car now (I never thought I would get a car- but I got one just before lockdown), and one morning it wouldn’t start and the holiday cottage owners charged the battery for me, I am not used to cars! I have been feeling guilty about driving each day, but others are saying it is only temporary and I must make the most of the break away from the hospital accommodation. I am thinking of maybe getting an electric bike after this if I do have to commute in the future. There are lots of dogs here- which is always nice!

Virtual support

We have had online support sessions organised through the Ysbyty Gwynedd Green Group; one session with Caroline Hickman, from the Climate Psychology Alliance on virus-anxiety, this was an opportunity to address our virus anxiety but also how this relates to our climate anxiety. It was really useful to be able to address some of these feelings.

We have also had bi-monthly empathy circles that have been organised by a local food grower and environmental educator and has been a good space to talk and share in a confidential environment.

Gelong Thubten a buddhist monk and meditation instructor has given us free access to his app Samten and we also had some members of staff organising mindfulness sessions virtually via Zoom.

There have been so many webinars, it has been impossible to keep track of them all. One memorable one was the webinar coronavirus and the climate crisis mobilizing health for common solutions, organised by Skoll Foundation and Health Care Without Harm, was very interactive and with participants from all over the world connecting over their shared appreciation of planetary health.

These are the values that we all held when asked:

There has been so much kindness over recent months and these are just a few examples of the many little things that have got me through until now. It’s hard to think how to repay all of this kindness, but I am very grateful, maybe you can pass on some of the kindness to those who need it, maybe those protesting for black lives at the moment?

Things are beginning to pick up with our Green Group, although we have been acting as a support network, we now almost have enough for a practical agenda! It will be good to revisit how we can adapt so that our actions can continue to reduce our impact on the environment as a health care sector, my Bevan Exemplar project will be an important part of making those initial connections for Wales and I feel excited about what’s next!


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