Breathtaking is written in real time from New Year’s Day 2020 to August 2020 and is the story of medicine in the time of the Coronavirus. Rachel Clarke is currently an NHS doctor, journalist and author so has the unique qualities to describe the pandemic from its birth in Wuhan to itsĀ  ultimate emergence in the UK last year. She normally works in a hospice providing palliative care but like many during this pandemic, put herself forward for work in the frontline.

Clarke says we were warned. We saw it coming and did nothing until it was too late. She lists the blatant errors made at all levels. She describes in detail what work in an intensive care unit (ICU) looks like from the constant struggle to get adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to the horror of seeing the daily death toll rise and rise. One of the most difficult aspects for medical staff and the dying is being unable to have their family visit and hold their hand as they slip away.

If the general public were ever in any doubt as to whether to wear a mask or not this book clarifies the dangers by explaining the fact that a virus is a mere inanimate particle unless they find and invade another living organism.

Clarke follows the moving story of one middle aged healthy man who ended up on a ventilator and how every day someone from the hospital telephoned to update the family. It is often the small things that can mean so much. It is easy to become overwhelmed with statistics so interspersing the facts with stories of individual suffering somehow really brings it home. The testimonies from nurses, patients and colleagues inspire gratitude for what matters most in life.

Clarke has a husband and two young childrenĀ  but found it impossible to share her day with her family so used writing as a form of release. This book is like a true life diary detailing both the horror and the amazing and selfless acts of kindness during this time.

Unfortunately, still, in January 2021, the death totals are rising rapidly and hospitals are once more being overwhelmed and the doctors and nurses on the frontline are still struggling to keep this killer at bay. We were told that we were all in this together but are we? Were the sacrifices really spread evenly? This book is heartbreaking, but a necessary and compelling read in documenting a year we will never forget.