Jerry Okoye tells his story to Joshua Neicho.
I’m a personal trainer with more than 10 years experience and a mature student in sports rehabilitation at Middlesex University, where I also work as a senior student learning assistant (SLA).
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an auto-immune disease. Medication and the intense work-outs I do as a trainer helped save my lungs. I felt incredibly grateful to the NHS for being there for me. When the current crisis broke, I wanted to give something back. I also knew that as a very active person I would feel useless if I wasn’t doing anything.
I applied for a volunteer role as a bank domestic at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. A couple of days later I got an email saying I’d been chosen and they invited me to do some of the work paid. My role was sanitising and sterilising all surface areas that people touch: tables, lifts, door handles. I also helped out on some of the non-Covid wards.
Of course I and the others doing this work all felt scared – you kind of find your life out working there. Even walking past someone at a distance of a few metres, you’re holding your breath just in case. You have to roll up your sleeves and get on with it. I just remembered to keep washing my hands and to try not to touch my face, and to use elbows or my little finger to open doors.
I also worked three times a week as an emergency responder in my community in Haringey. Using the Good Sam App, which was originally created for cardiac arrest patients, I responded to emergency alerts to help vulnerable people do their shopping, pick up their medication and drive them to hospital for appointments.
Then I received a text message from the government. It said that I am in a high-risk category because of my auto-immune condition and advised me to self-isolate. My GP told me that I should shield and self-isolate as much as possible. It was tough, but I went home in order to protect the NHS.
I went to a flat I rent close to the university and self-isolated for ten days before I could re-unite with my family. I spent time doing my studies – I’ve been doing well and was ahead with my assignments. We’ve been taking our exams online and on Monday this week I did a re-sit of one we had all struggled with. As a senior SLA, I also helped other students complete their degrees and academic years by facilitating their learning online.
I’m now back with my partner, a primary school teacher, my daughter and stepson in Crouch End. We’ve been doing lots together during lockdown: I’ve been home-schooling my daughter and we created a family fitness routine to help us keep sane. In the past few years while focusing on my degree I’ve sort of neglected my fitness and put on a substantial amount of weight. Being in lockdown made me realise that I had to set myself a new goal, so I decided to train six days a week, including running and functional and strength training with some equipment we have. So far, I have lost six kilos and my mental health has also benefited.
I’ve been trying to start my business as a trainer, building a website so I can get going that as soon as lockdown finishes. In the meantime, we’ve got a spin bike and I am ready to deliver my Jerry Spin Madness and Very Sweaty Bootcamp classes as virtual sessions.
I was advised that, because of my condition, I couldn’t go outside even to put the bins out, and that all I could do is open a window. I thought, that doesn’t make sense for me – if I don’t put my bins out, who is going to come and do it for me? I understand the restrictions for elderly vulnerable people, who may lack concentration and make mistakes about social distancing, but are they appropriate for young energetic people who happen to have an underlying condition? I’m very careful about hygiene, keep my distance from people and when I go outside I wear a mask and gloves.
If I wasn’t told to self-isolate by the government, I would still be out there helping. I could see the reality of life within the NHS when I was working at the Royal Free. I was proud I was one of the domestics – when everything’s over the whole team is hoping to get together and celebrate. I take my hat off to the doctors and nurses for their bravery. This virus has been a wake-up call to find courage inside ourselves and contribute what we can to bring hope to people and in the end defeat this invisible enemy.
Many thanks to Jerry for speaking to On London.
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