I finished reading this book well over a week ago and it has taken me until now to process the information and raw emotion in order to attempt writing a review. As I am not at all certain that I can do justice to such an important book, I will start by saying that I urge you to read this book to gain some insight into the real impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers. It will open your eyes to the human story that the government and much of the mainstream media seem to gloss over in their slick presentation of statistics.
Before retraining in medicine, Dr Roopa Farooki previously published fiction, for both adults and for a middle-grade readership, additionally she lectures on a post-graduate writing course at the University of Oxford. Her prowess as a writer blazes through this account of her experience as a Junior Doctor during the first forty days, “la quarantena”, of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020. Already grieving for the loss of her older sister to breast cancer, she is exposed to the rapidly escalating crisis of COVID-19 infected patients at a time when the scientific and medical community were desperately trying to assess the best way to deal with the new virus and frontline medical staff were asked to treat patients with little or no protective clothing. The absolute vulnerability of the healthcare workforce facing this new threat is laid out starkly, and although it angers her, the language of the battlefield is deployed to underline their sacrifice on the frontline.
The book is arresting in its structure. I think it is the first time that I’ve read a biographical account written in the second person. As a reader, you are forced into Dr Roopa’s shoes and experience the immediacy, viscerality and exhaustion of her journey through la quarentera. This focus on the first forty days of lockdown demonstrates how unprepared the powers at the top of our society were, and reminds us that we could and should have learnt from the experience of clinicians in Italy, who desperately tried to warn other countries what they were about to face. This lack of leadership in the very early stages accounts for the anger that comes later in the recount, in the light of so many lives both clinicians and patients, lost unnecessarily. The doctor certainly does not hold back on her scathing opinion of our Prime Minister.
As lockdown is enforced Dr Roopa begins walking to and from work and in the early days spots a fox, which she thinks is basking in the early spring sunshine. As realisation dawns that it is actually lying dead under the trees, she charts it’s gradual decomposition which symbolises her own slow deterioration under the onslaught of the pandemic. As the flow of patients with breathing difficulties into the hospital increases, frontline staff must treat them despite a total lack of PPE, or even basic scrubs. You can almost feel the bone-aching exhaustion of 13 hour shifts in which she is lucky to get a 5 minute break. Being skilled at tricky procedures such as accessing awkward veins means that Dr Roopa is often called in to take body fluids from COVID-positive patients, increasing her own risk still further.
It does not escape the doctor’s notice that there is a disparity in the COVID-19 mortality statistics between populations of different ethnicities. Amongst the names of those healthcare workers who died from the virus in the early stage of the pandemic she recognises that the majority are of BAME heritage and, as someone who was born in Pakistan, she conveys the desperation of knowing that becoming infected could be a death sentence. This is compounded by a less than sympathetic domestic experience, where she is treated like a leper who might bring disease into the family home. With so little support from those around her, mental conversations with her deceased sister become a means of rationalising the situation. Inevitably, Dr Roopa does fall ill with COVID-19; thankfully she recovers to return to the NHS frontline.
I am beyond admiration and gratitude to Dr Roopa Farooki for her dedication to her dual vocations as both doctor and writer. I hope that this searingly honest account will open the eyes of many to the sacrifices that are made by NHS staff to protect the health of the nation; standing up to their responsibilities in the face of indifference, ineptitude and disrespect from some of those in power who should be supporting them.
I am grateful to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for access to an electronic proof of Everything is True ahead of publication in return for an honest opinion.