April 24, 2020

'Call me Boris': What it was like to treat the prime minister for Covid-19

Daily Briefing

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a week at St. Thomas' Hospital receiving treatment for Covid-19. After his discharge, Johnson released a video thanking two ICU nurses who stood by him "when things could have gone either way."

    Covid-19 guidance from clinicians at the forefront

    'A patient like any other patient'

    The two nurses Johnson thanked in the video, Jenny McGee and Luis Pitarma, said Johnson wanted to be treated like any other patient in the hospital.

    "I asked how he would like to be addressed and he said to call him Boris," Pitarma said. "That made me feel less nervous because he took away any formality. I've never looked after someone high profile before. But he was also a patient like any other patient, a life like any other life."

    McGee similarly said, "As a unit, he was just another patient we were trying to do our best for, so it was business as usual," adding, "It was just another day at the office."

    Still, Pitarma said the responsibility of caring for Johnson "was quite overwhelming," adding that Johnson "absolutely needed to be" in the ICU when he was moved there on April 6.

    "There was a lot of media interest about him being in hospital and, to be honest, that was the toughest," McGee said. She explained that, after her shifts spent caring for Johnson, she'd be in the car and "hear things about Boris Johnson on the news that was very surreal because I thought 'wow, I've been looking after him.'"

    Johnson was discharged from the hospital on April 12. He later released the video, thanking several nurses who cared for him and specifically mentioning McGee and Pitarma, whom he referred to as "Jenny from New Zealand" and "Luis from Portugal." Johnson said in the video, "The [National Health Service] saved my life, no question."

    McGee said she was preparing for a night shift at the hospital when Johnson released the message, and she received a text message about it from a friend. "My first reaction was that it was a joke," she said, adding that Johnson's praise came "totally out of the blue."

    McGee later received a message of praise from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as well.

    Likewise, Pitarma received a call from Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa thanking him for his work. "It was quite surreal but I was very proud to get his call. He was thankful for what I'd done," Pitarma said. "To be thanked by the Prime Minister and the Portuguese President within the same few hours was amazing, I couldn't really believe what was happening" (Kaye/MacLellan, Reuters, 4/23; BBC, 4/23).

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