Radio - Shifts

Shifts is a profound and inspirational 30-minute tribute to frontline health workers.

Earlier this year, theatre producer Judith Dimant was expecting to stage an adaptation of Christie Watson’s nursing memoir, The Language of Kindness. When her plans were abruptly curtailed, she decided to produce an audio representation of healthcare workers on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis, all interviewed during lockdown.

Shifts interweaves poetry and verbatim testimony, accompanied by Gareth Fry’s atmospheric soundscape. Through first-hand accounts, we learn about the experiences of those who saved lives, tended the dying, consoled the grieving and how it changed them. We hear from a paramedic, several ICU nurses, a mental health nurse and a perfusionist. The plurality of voices perfectly reflects the diversity of those working in healthcare today.

One describes an “insatiable need to care and love.” Another is concerned about “leaks” and “coughing”. The description of patients is heart breaking: A nurse brushes a patient’s teeth and hair while their eyes hold her own and won’t let go. Another worries about telling a relative - “standing in the street, barefoot in pyjamas” - how to say goodbye to the loved one about to disappear in an ambulance.

Then there is this brief, imagined exchange between a dead patient and a nurse:

I didn’t want to die alone.

But I was there.

I didn’t know you.

Stephanie Jacob’s poetic response is superb: “Blue-wrapped figures huddle… it may look like a space station…but there’s never silence here…gloved, gowned, visored, we slide between the human and machine. Indistinguishable. Watching.”  Healthcare workers read the poems alongside actors with music by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry.

I haven’t heard anything that better illustrates the compassion and courage of our frontline workers, what they’ve been through and what they may have to endure again. This deeply moving account is more effective than any public information broadcast. It includes a rousing call for funding: “If you care, demand for us the means to care for you.” One nurse likens the crisis to a warzone while another declares: “I don’t think I will ever forget a single moment I’ve been through.”

Between the Ears: Shifts RADIO 3 / BBC Sounds

Originally published by Camden New Journal