Diary of a pandemic – my darkest days in the emergency department

Each day this month, InQueensland will publish Tales of 2020 – the stories of ordinary Queenslanders during an extraordinary year. Today, Brisbane medical professional Fleur Martinez shares her diary from  the darkest days of the pandemic in the emergency ward where she worked.

Dec 02, 2020, updated Dec 02, 2020

Diary of a Pandemic


Finally, I have days off. I am so drained.
Work was ridiculously busy with testing at the start of the month. We went from our usual one hundred and thirty to one hundred and fifty patients a day to over three hundred and fifty. We had extra staff deployed to the Emergency Department (ED) — nurses and admin retrained, all the resident doctors were taken off surgical terms and sent to ED, respiratory or medical teams.

Departments moved so we could have more space. A second “clean” Emergency Department was opened. Any space that could be turned into an isolation room was. It sounds like a military operation, but it was not. It was haphazard and disorganized. Ironically, all the extra staff means there is no social distancing at work.

Since COVID-19 started, I have not known where I am working before I start a shift. Every day there are significant changes in the way we work—location, procedures, processes, and people. We were briefly moved out of the department, then back again.

Other departments, even our manager, would not come near Emergency. Every day there were more rumours and speculation about what we are doing next, where we will be working from or what could possibly happen. I have been utterly exhausted every day.

Now it is quiet—really quiet. No one is getting drunk and falling over, over-dosing, no one’s long-term back pain is flaring up. People are avoiding the hospital. It is eerily quiet.

One of the Emergency registrars described this point as the water pulling back out to sea before the tidal wave hits. There’s chat, speculation, and predictions of what could happen, new theories. Horrific stories about what friends and family in the UK, Europe and the USA have been going through have been shared. Staff are feeling edgy, waiting for it to happen here.


So tired. I have this level of unsettling anxiety hovering about now, all the time. I am constantly checking Twitter and watching ABC News 24 for information and updates.

It is hard thinking what it will be like in a month: I’m currently sitting in the blazing sun in my courtyard, the sky clear blue. Everything is fine. All my friends, family and co-workers are alive. In six months maybe they will not be, maybe I won’t be.


Sunday night I slept two hours. I spend almost all of my time now thinking about the most efficient way to go out and do shopping.

I agonise over small decisions because I have nothing else to think about. I know I should spend time emailing or calling my mum and my sister, but I have nothing to say. No one does. I have this unsettling, constant feeling of dread.

I hate the irony of this situation. I cannot be close to anyone I want to be close to, to people I care about. All those things I value, things that matter—being there, I can’t do.

If I die, I will die alone. If anyone I know dies, they will die alone. There is a chance I’ve already seen some people for the last time.


Days do not feel like they used to. Work is hard. It is not the patients, yet…it’s the prep and the communication (lack of), the planning (lack of) and the inconsistency of… everything. It is weird, scary, exciting, terrifying, and exhausting. It has not even properly started yet.


My sister was diagnosed with cancer today.


No one has asked me how I am this week. They have asked how work is, just not me. People are struggling.

Work has been an absolute shitshow. The executive change decisions about everything, several times. It is ridiculous how disorganised and unplanned this whole thing is. It is embarrassing and I have no faith in their ability to manage this response.


Work has been difficult. I have nowhere else to focus except work; I do not have kids, I don’t have a partner, I don’t have a pet, I live alone, I barely talk to my family anymore.

I can’t go to gigs or shows; I can’t go on holiday or hang out with my friends at the pub. Work is now all I have, and I am struggling to deal with the constant, haphazard changes, and the staff.

I told my boss I was struggling. She asked if there was anything she could do to help. Two days later, I asked if I could work part-time, temporarily, for 5-6 months. This would allow me to start freelancing but have a safety net if it didn’t work. The answer: no.

I thought nine years’ service would give me some leverage with this situation. It does not. The first time I asked for help, I got none.


I received my Post Graduate Certificate in the mail. I have not hugged anyone in weeks.

I know I am plodding along with everything, but it’s still difficult. It is hard working in a team with morale at its lowest. We have not had to deal with COVID-19 in the way we were ready to, but it’s made some deficiencies obvious.

It is hard coming home to nothing, hard not experiencing intimacy or affection. It is hard not enjoying anything.


Today I took a sick day. I went for a walk and came home. I cried a bit today, unexpectedly. Everything is harder than I would like to admit. I feel very alone.


I saw mum and my sister today for a picnic at the park. It was nice to get dressed to go somewhere that was not the supermarket or work, to sit with people.

There is a tiny feeling of normality creeping back in. I am still hesitant about being too complacent, still on high alert.


Tonight, I went out for dinner, sat down at a table, and ordered food. It is so exciting to wear clothes that aren’t my work uniform or active wear.

There is a small sense of normality creeping back in and I appreciate it. I am slowly adapting to this new way of life.

Fleur Martinez has worked in medical administration for 15 years and has always lived in Brisbane, despite trying to leave three times.

This story was first published in Stories from the Heart, an e-book edited by Dr Johanna Skinner and editor Jane Connolly, and is republished with their permission.  

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