stem cells in their environment

Lockdown Stories – Stuart Brown

06 May 2020

by Stuart Brown, Postdoc

In the wake of Covid-19, the lives of people around the world have been turned upside down. Researchers at the CSCRM are no exception, and all our staff are experiencing lockdowns very differently. The Lockdown Stories series aims to share the unique stories of individuals from across the Centre; what they are finding tough, positive, inspiring or even scary; and how each person is facing different challenges which are impacting their lives and work, and how they think their lives will be changed when the worlds opens up again...

For this entry, Post Doctoral Researcher Stuart Brown from the Watt Lab shares his experience being on lockdown with his pregnant wife...

My lockdown story is a little odd.

You see, recently my wife and I decided to start a family. It wasn't easy, there were lots of ups and downs, but to our delight we found out we were going to have a baby boy. We got past the initial 3 months and then told all our families and friends about it.

Then we started to hear about this weird new virus that was spreading everywhere...

We're both scientists, so our first instinct was to try to figure out what might happen, what could really be known or predicted from what little was known. We both saw that it was going to be a bad one, and that it would likely spread everywhere. I remember reading all about the early reports from China and Japan, especially anything we could find that talked about the risks to pregnant women, newborns etc. It was pretty sparse, which in itself told us something - it was thankfully rare for children to be affected so badly they needed help.

We didn't want my wife to get infected, because she has other health issues that might make her respond worse. So we tried to work out ways to limit our exposure whilst everyone was still working. I changed the time I went into work, for when travel was less busy, and we both tried to work from home a little more. So I guess in a way, my lockdown experience was ...a bit of a relief? I didn't have to dodge the viral roulette on a crowded train, and I had loads of computer work to do so I could keep busy.

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We're lucky, since we live in the outskirts, half way between a park and a Sainsbury's. That makes it quite easy to limit our chances of becoming exposed to the virus. Plus, my Mum in Scotland sent me some homemade tartan face masks. They don't stop the virus very well, but they sure make people give you a wide berth.

Because we had the kid on the way, we had to assemble all the things we'd thought we would need early. We wanted to limit having to pop out to get some extra vests or babygrows. Luckily we had a good idea of everything we wanted to buy, and got a lot of it done before lockdown, and the rest through the mail.

We got into a routine that suited us quite easily. My wife was expecting a period of maternity leave so had already prepared. Although we were in the same room, headphones and those youtube videos which are 8 hours of white noise meant it wasn't too difficult for us to work and relax in the same room.

The timing has, strangely enough, been a bit of a blessing. I think you just run out of overhead to worry about things, and we had enough on our plate worrying about our baby to worry much more about the state of the world, our jobs, our work and potential world wars fought over PPE supplies.

The major negative has been that my wife has to do a lot more on her own, leading up to birth, as the hospital wants to limit chances of spouses passing virus to staff and other patients. So I can't support her in the same way at her scans and appointments, which has been difficult. Also, after the birth I have to leave more or less immediately, and wait for them at home. These inconveniences, though major in their own way personally, seem trivial when people are losing their loved ones.

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I do miss my desk and my 2 screen setup, it is just more difficult to get comfortable and absorbed in work's flow to the same extent. It's a lot harder to concentrate at home. There's definitely more interruptions to make meals, or cups of tea, or discuss something about the kid. Unlike it seems everyone else at CSCRM, I have not taken part in any exercise classes, burpees, weight training, or Zumba at all, and that's just the way I like it! I don't even know what a burpee is, and never, ever want to find out.

I think when the lockdown ends, there will be surprisingly little long-term change in how people in the UK arrange their lives or work-life balance. Video conferencing is a poor substitute for seeing your colleagues properly every day. I feel sad that we might pass on a society more loaded with debt to our kids, but it’s hard to see what choice we all really had at the time. I'm sure, in future, a lot of time will be wasted with hindsight geniuses explaining what obviously would have been the right thing to do. Probably the biggest lasting change will be the international diplomatic and financial pressure on China, and the global changes in manufacturing that may result from that.

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I give this lockdown 9 1/2 stars out of ten, because I deducted half a point for not featuring zombies. The best part of it was seeing my wife all day every day. The worst part of it was seeing my wife all day every day. I don't think we would have done anything differently, we have been very lucky not to get ill.

As for advice, I would just tell people that things are never all bad, and there will be long-term positives coming out of even these trying times, if you can just hang in there.

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