Prosopon Interview with Dr Meg Coleman


As part of our series, Prosopon, discussing the impact of COVID and faith on those on the frontline, Dr. Meg Coleman shares her thoughts.

Describe your work role under COVID at the moment.
I have spent much of the last year working on the COVID wards at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington. In particular we look after those who require a lot of support or oxygen but are not quite sick enough to need an Intensive Care bed, which are reserved for the very sickest. Over the year we have also looked after many patients after they have been up to Intensive Care and are now getting better, so we can help them recover and get home.

When I am not on the wards I help to run the post COVID clinics for patients who still have breathing problems after they have left hospital, alongside my normal (pre COVID) respiratory work.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I am very lucky to be married to a wonderful man, and have three wonderful children who give me great joy (and some mild irritation). I  was brought up in Oxford but trained in London and qualified as a doctor almost 20 years ago. Most of those 20 years have been spent in London, except a year in New Zealand where I was allowed to fly around in helicopters, and an incredible year in Malawi working with the medical teams in the central hospital and teaching at the medical school. I have now been working as a respiratory consultant in London for the last 5 years.

How long have you been coming to St Thomas’, what brought you to this church, and what keeps you here?
I first came to St Thomas' shortly after we moved here in 2012. I wanted an open and inclusive church, one that would be welcoming to children, but also with a style of service that I was comfortable with. Finding a new church was quite intimidating but we persevered and quickly felt relaxed and welcomed. What makes us keep coming back? The people, the community, the music, watching Fr Robert persevere through the shifting pandemic rules, with son and wife and dog by his side.

What has been hardest for you over the past few months?
Walking into the COVID cohort ward on the first day it opened. Trying to keep the team calm and focused while frankly not feeling all that confident myself. Not really knowing if we were safe or if the PPE was enough. Looking at my terrified and isolated patients and just hoping that every day would bring a magic breakthrough. Knowing it would not. Trying to support others in the hospital to make difficult but necessary decisions. Having similar difficult and frank discussions with patients and relatives.

What has been best?
Work has never been so adaptable or innovative - we collaborate closely with the research teams, recruiting everyone we can. We change practice and adapt rapidly to the latest data. We do the best we can.

Despite work I have spent more time in Hanwell than ever before. I have seen a strength of community that I just did not know was there. People talking to their neighbours, sharing and supporting each other. Real kindness - the spaghetti bolognaise on the doorstep, the rescue pack of loo roll and a good bottle of red. A chance (socially distanced) meeting and gossip in the park. The green spaces to run around in.

How does your faith impact your work?
In a way I hope it does not - my job is to provide the best possible care to all my patients regardless of race or religion. But faith often comes to the forefront when people are critically unwell, so sometimes my patients talk about their faith - people from all religious beliefs, calling on God for help or support, or an acceptance that some things are beyond their and my control. When they talk of their faith, I wonder if my faith helps me to understand, allowing a connection between us at a time of incredible distress and difficulty.

My faith also adds to my resilience. It gives me somewhere to go when things are bad, and the hope of forgiveness and understanding.

Do you have a favourite bible verse, hymn, prayer etc which has been important to you over the past few months?
No clear favourite but I really miss the communal church singing. And I love the Christmas time blessing 'May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary and the peace of the Christ Child be yours...'. The offer of joy, eagerness, perseverance, obedience and peace is rather appealing, especially after a year full of perseverance and obedience, perhaps we are due more of the rest. And I always return to the Lords Prayer - it grounds me.

Is there anything we can do as a church to support your work?
Be forgiving when we (once again) forget we are on the reading rota, or turn up late and scruffy.