Corona and Beyond

By Dr Stu Turnbull – Bruce House 1999

This is it I thought. This is the real deal. After weeks of tracking the relentless march of an invisible army and the trail of devastated communities we felt that it was close and now the waiting was over in the form of this lady; desperately sucking in air, eyes on stalks. I met her off the ambulance, she was wearing a dressing gown and an oxygen mask, which she kept tearing off, desperately gulping air like a landed fish. She looked so vulnerable as the paramedics and I were forced to shout at each other through facemasks and visors in sweaty full plastic suits – I tried hard to smile with my eyes, striving for an air of reassurance. She had been plucked from her home in a rush, robbed of the opportunity to process her removal from all that was familiar and rushed away from saying her likely final goodbyes to her family. As her gurney was pushed deeper into the Emergency Department and into a packed Resus bay, her human form became an incongruous sight amongst the clinical surroundings, lost amongst the chaos.

I’ve seen quite a lot in my time as a doctor in A&E but my legs were jelly as I was working to get the measure of this. The urgency of the Paramedics and the fear I could detect in the clamour of their handover, these are people not drawn to panic, was contagious. As we entered the hospital another ambulance pulled up behind and was met by my colleague, everyone at a jog.

In the resuscitation bay where we measure and analyse and regain control of often shocking situations we were all still wrestling with this new disease. The results returning from the various blood tests were so anomalous that in the beginning I did not believe what we were seeing and I repeated them multiple times - some of the arterial blood gas measurements I was getting were not thought to be compatible with life.

“Yeah, that’s what they’re seeing in Italy.” This was somehow reassuring.

Over that few weeks we went through an accelerated process of form, storm, norm and ultimately perform! The worst bit I found was trying to reassure someone who was alone and scared, convinced that this is how their life would end. Relatives were kept away and the phones rang constantly as husbands, wives and children desperately enquired about their loved ones plight.

As the situation settles it is good practice to reflect on what has just happened. At my hospital, Charing Cross in London, we were certainly challenged and I’m proud to say that we all rose to meet that challenge. Medicine is the ultimate team effort and as a team we all executed our roles in symphony; recognising issues early and adapting quickly to overcome them. It was inspiring to see first hand as we went from a state of unready to capable. I want to thank my team for all of their continued hard work. Very sadly we lost some of our team to the virus and my heart goes out to them and their families.

My life has been peppered with tests of character - some of my own devising that I seek out, others which jump out at you unwanted, some big and then there’s always the small stuff. I have been fortunate enough to row the Atlantic Ocean, run the Egyptian Sahara, motorbike across South America, travel the world, serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps, marry my Windmill House sweetheart, become a dad of 3 (the greatest test of all!) - all of this stemmed from my time at Gordonstoun which was more than formative. Gordonstoun flung open my eyes to what’s possible and set the foundations for living a life full of colour and adventure, challenge and capability. Instead of shrinking away from the uncomfortable I learnt to choose the right attitude, face it head on and, most importantly, come alive to the challenge.

My time at Gordonstoun ignited in me a confidence to try anything and the resolve to give it my best shot - this certainly served me well in the face of this pandemic and the social turmoil that has followed. These character traits, especially that of a rare enthusiasm despite adversity, are common to all of my Gordonstoun buddies. Truly, the power of this special Gordonstoun effect cannot be understated.

Who knows what lies over the horizon? I do know that most of it will be good but that some of it will be bad but just remember: team up, fortune favours the bold and… Plus est en vous!

About Stu Turnbull (Bruce House 1999)

After Gordonstoun Stu studied Geology at Edinburgh University before taking a Masters in Oceanography at Southampton University. His passion for the sea and spirit of adventure culminated in him and a friend rowing 3000miles across the Atlantic unsupported in a plywood boat. The journey took 63 days and in the process raised more than £200,000 for Cancer Research UK. At that point Stu had already decided that he wanted to become a doctor and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He is now an NHS Doctor in Norfolk.