AS the battle against the coronavirus rages, one doctor from a North-East hospital shares a view from the front line – and urges people to follow government instructions.

“I just don’t understand how I’ve got this virus – I did everything right”. My patient looks at me in utter despair. He’s elderly but generally well, now stuck in a hospital bed fighting for his life.

He’s lucky. It’s only the start of the crisis on the Intensive Care Unit. We still have beds. We’re able to offer him hope- we can’t put him on a ventilator – a fit elderly patient is still elderly, and lacks the physiological reserve to survive several days in an induced coma – but we can offer a CPAP hood.

The inflatable hood fits tightly over the patient’s head, and high concentrations of oxygen are pumped in, generating a continuous pressure that keeps the tiny sacs in the lungs open, so that oxygen can be transported into the blood stream. There’s still a high chance that he won’t survive, and he knows it.

In a week’s time, similar patients won’t be so lucky. By then, the beds will be full. We may well have taken over the operating theatres and filled them with more patients. We’ll have to make tough decisions about who can be admitted to Intensive Care, and it’s likely that only patients who need ventilators – and have a chance of surviving – will get a bed.

The patients that don’t get beds will be nursed on the wards. They’ll be given oxygen and kept comfortable. We’ll hope that their bodies can dredge up the reserve to fight this awful virus – but for a lot of them, this won’t be the case.

Normally, if a patient is dying, their family are encouraged to stay with them. We give relatives blankets and pillows so that they can be vaguely comfortable overnight. Relatives are able to hold the patient’s hands, hug them, to tell them how much they’re loved.

This won’t happen with the coronavirus. It’s too much of a risk to allow relatives into the rooms. Instead, the patients will die without any of their loved ones there. Nursing staff will try their best to be there, but some patients may die while nurses are busy with other jobs.

These patients don’t have a problem with breathing – they have a problem with oxygen going from their lungs to the bloodstream. They are conscious until the very end, fully aware that they are dying and that there’s nothing that can be done.

We will do our best to ease this with palliative medications, but obviously can’t assist/speed up the dying process. This is a horrible death – for the patient; for the medical staff who feel powerless to help; and for the family who can’t be there with their loved ones.

The country has been on lockdown for a week. Yet when I drive to/from work, I see groups of people – usually teenagers – walking around together, laughing and joking. I see people on Facebook complaining that the government is over reacting, and that we’re panicking over nothing. Some people voice their opinion that “it’s just like the flu”.

It pains me to say it, but the government isn’t over reacting. This isn’t “nothing”. This virus is far worse than the flu.

If infection control wasn’t an issue, I’d like to invite those people to shadow me on a night shift in intensive care. I’d like them to try to explain to someone that they’re likely to die.

I’d like them to see a fit and healthy patient admitted at 10pm, needing oxygen but laughing and joking, only to be unconscious with dangerously low oxygen levels and blood pressure by 11.30pm.

I’d like them to put on all the protective equipment, and hope that it’s enough to keep them safe, as you hover over the patient’s airway to insert a breathing tube.

I’d like to see them go through the utter despair as the patient continues to deteriorate, despite everything that you try.

I’d like them to hear conversations between colleagues: Should we move out of our homes to protect our families? How are we going to cope when we are forced to admit our own staff to the Intensive Care Unit?

This virus has an estimated incubation period of 14 days, before people start to show symptoms. They then seem to deteriorate between days five and eight of having symptoms.

The people currently being admitted to Intensive Care, and the patients currently dying, are likely to have been infected three weeks ago. People currently infected may not be showing symptoms yet – so every time they leave the house, they are potentially infecting more people.

This is why lockdown and social distancing are so vital. We need to minimise our contacts, so that we minimise the spread of infection. We’re expecting Intensive Care – and the hospital in general – to be overwhelmed with patients. We’re expecting to have to make the difficult decisions. But please, try to take the strain off. Stay at home. Keep your teenagers indoors. If anyone you know is flouting the rules, beg them to reconsider.

Do everything you can to prevent us having to say “no” to patients.