Dr Jonathan White works for the NHS as an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Northern Ireland. He also lives with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and is one of Overcoming MS’ medical advisors.

I spoke with Jonny about the personal impact Coronavirus is having on his work and home life.

How has COVID-19 impacted you?

I was happily at work, on Monday 16th March, when it was first mentioned by a senior member of the hospital medical staff, that I should think about not coming in to work. I don’t know why, but it came as a surprise, something I hadn’t given any real thought to before. But seeing how quickly the COVID-19 situation was developing, and thinking about my own situation, I reluctantly agreed to stand down.  It was a difficult decision to make and to come to terms with - I didn’t train to be a Doctor to then abandon my colleagues and friends in the midst of the greatest public health crisis in a generation. I felt guilty, and that I was letting them and myself down.

But I had a lot to think about - what would happen to me and my MS if I caught COVID?  My doctor wife Jenny is pregnant so how could the virus and my not working affect her? I eventually decided that there were unacceptable levels of risk for me and my family. So, my social-distancing began from Wednesday 18th March and I’m now over a week in. 

Events have rapidly changed over the last few weeks and most people, apart from key workers, are adopting social-distancing and living in near lockdown, as advised by the UK Government. 

How are you adapting to social distancing?

My NHS hospital job involves antenatal clinics for pregnant women, some theatre sessions, and general gynaecology.  I’m also the clinical lead for early pregnancy and the recurrent pregnancy loss clinic. In support of the NHS’ response to the pandemic, I have adapted my working patterns - I am available to frontline workers for advice by phone, and plan to help by updating clinical guidelines and patient information leaflets.

I am juggling work with my role as primary carer for our three year old son, Angus, who we took out of nursery once I stopped working.  This was to minimise all our risk of infection, but he is also great company (most of the time)!

I am getting pretty good at compartmentalising jobs! Whether that is hospital work, daddy-day care or researching and writing for Overcoming MS. It’s been a rapid learning curve with Angus but being flexible is the answer!

How are you adapting as a household to social-distancing?

As my wife is also an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and is going out to work, we are taking extra precautions each day.  When Jenny comes home, I open the door handle from the inside, she puts her clothes on to wash and then showers before rejoining me and Angus.  He finds that a little strange but it’s all fine. 

Has social-distancing impacted you in any other ways?

Jenny is 13 weeks pregnant now and I had to miss her routine scan at the antenatal clinic. No one is allowed to video so it’s just one of those things that had to be sacrificed. But all is well and that really is the main thing.

How are you finding your role as primary carer?

We took Angus out of nursery to minimise the risks of bringing COVID-19 into our house, and in particular me catching it as people with MS are classified as a high-risk group by the UK Government (https://overcomingms.org/latest/what-meant-social-distancing).

It’s a wonderful opportunity to spend more time with Angus but I will admit it’s hard work and pretty intense. You have to fill a full ten hours each day! I have found it helps to stick to routines - we do some fun, structured ‘work’, chores, reading, napping and learning through play. He has been helping me in the garden, weeding and with DIY. We are lucky to have a garden and access to the wonderful countryside on our doorstep.

How have you found sticking to the OMS programme during social-distancing?

Following the OMS programme comes very naturally now and is a way of life so I’ve not noticed a huge difference. We’ve managed to secure supermarket deliveries but did almost run out of lentils! So sticking to the diet has been fine and local/health food shops seem well-stocked.

I’ve always made time for exercise and I’m managing to get out cycling on my own and am doing my pilates classes online. I’ve been doing Joe Wicks PE videos with Angus too in the mornings. I’ve been enjoying the garden now it’s Spring and getting out in the sunshine as much as possible. 

I have actually stepped up my self-care, as I think it’s even more important we look after ourselves during these uncertain and stressful times. I now meditate twice a day for 20 minutes.

Have there been any positives or surprises as a result of you being at home?

I’ve probably talked more to my extended family recently than for a long time!  We have been connecting in different ways, online. We have introduced Facetime afternoon cuppas and my musical brother sends us a tune on the piano each morning to start the day. 

I’ve enjoyed following some drawing videos by the artist Rob Biddulph with Angus. Rob shows how to draw dinosaurs, bears, dogs etc. and I’ve created some real “masterpieces”, one of which I have proudly tacked to my wall!

How is living with MS, with the pandemic threat?

The (Overcoming) MS community has always had to manage uncertainty. We have already had to come to terms with adapting our lifestyles and managing symptoms at home and at work. I think the OMS community has great resilience and our positive approach is something that will surely help us all in these most challenging of times. 

I’ve had to stop myself from ‘terror-scrolling’ and looking at the news constantly. I’ve deleted some news and social media apps and alerts and now only listen to the UK Government daily briefing around 5pm each day.

With weeks possibly turning into months, how are you going to keep positive?

Jenny and I have flipped roles and we are getting used to our “new normal”. We take one day at a time. We just realise that now we need to have protection for me and my MS, as well as Jenny and her pregnancy, and to look after Angus. We are very lucky to have our incomes protected, we have safety and space, and sunshine (rare in Northern Ireland!) With the clocks changing and evenings getting lighter we are looking forward to spending quality family time outside, getting more Vitamin D, whilst thinking of others that are less fortunate and our friends and colleagues on the front-line.  We think it is extremely important to help in any way that we can.

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Brian Green (not verified)

Good to see you are doing well.
I have a question, The article you link to regarding social distancing is a few weeks old now and MS does not seem to be on the list of high risk people, has this now changed?

Lucy-OMS

Hi Brian - the article you reference does show that people with MS are in the at risk group of people. What has changed, at least in the UK, since that article was written is that there has been stricter advice to everyone living in the UK with respect to social distancing and 'lockdown' until at least 14 April unless you are in essential job (like working in the NHS) and those on immunosuppresent drugs should have recieved a letter telling them that they should be 'shielding' i.e. never leaving the house for 12 weeks https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-pr…. I hope this makes sense.

Sola

I think there should be some clarity on immunosuppresent drugs. This is an excerpt from the link above 'People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.'

This begs the question which DMTs significantly increase risk of infection? The ABN ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WITH MULTIPLE SCLEROSIUS ON DISEASE-MODIFYING THERAPIES BACKGROUND says among others:

3. If you are on interferon beta 1a, interferon beta 1b, copaxone, teriflunomide, dimethyl fumarate and natalizumab, please continue to take these drugs. They do not significantly increase the risk of systemic viral infections.

4. If you are on fingolimod, please be aware that the risk of viral infections is moderately increased. So you may be more prone to coronavirus infection and its complications.

5. If you are on ocrelizumab, please be aware that the risk of viral infections is moderately increased. So you may be more prone to coronavirus infection. For many people on ocrelizumab, this risk is outweighed by the effectiveness of ocrelizumab in controlling their MS.

6. If you have had one round of cladribine or alemtuzumab, and are due another round, then you should discuss this further with your MS team. The risk of viral infections is highest in the three to six months after alemtuzumab and cladribine. Therefore it is sensible to delay the second round of treatment until the risk of coronavirus infection has passed.

7. If you have had two rounds of treatment with cladribine or alemtuzumab and are well, please be aware that the risk of viral infections is slightly increased.

I have been asked to come in for my natalizumab. I am not going to be in a bubble walking through the hospital before getting to the infusion suite. I am now caught between a rock and a hard place; risk getting the virus by going into hospital or risk a flare up by staying away.

Sola

RMOORWOOD

Hello Sola. Thanks for your message. The link referred to the UK Government's advice for people with MS to adhere to social distancing to avoid contracting the virus. This has since been updated as most people in the UK, except key workers, are in near lockdown to avoid spreading COVID-19. . We understand these are worrying times - regarding the continuation of your own medication and treatment, we would always advise people to speak with their medical advisors. We hope you continue to stay safe and well. Keep in touch with your OMS community; we are here for you.

Alana Divito (not verified)

Great blog post Jonny... glad to hear you, Jenny, Angus and bump are keeping well and staying safe. Best wishes and see you back in work very soon hopefully 😊🙏

Norah McNally (not verified)

Johnny and Jenny, wishing you both Health, Safety and Congratulations on your Fantastic News. We all make our own choices to keep our family safe, no one should judge another before standing in their shoes. We wake up healthy each morning which all of us take for granted. Keep up your Amazing Work. Norah 🙏❤️

RMOORWOOD

Thanks Norah. Jonny hadn't quite realised he was announcing their baby news with the world but he's happy to share some good news during these challenging times.

nola totten

Hi Johnny, a good read. I was wondering about the OMS circle. Is there one on the North coast? I am interested in trying the plan and have the book but just cant seem to get into it.

RMOORWOOD

Hi Nola. We're happy to try to help. Let's see if we can find your nearest Circle or a mentor. We'd love to help and support you with the program. Email me at rachel@overcomingms.org and let's see what we can do.