West London doctor reveals how his evening unfolded one year on from Grenfell
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A London doctor has revealed how he was one of the first to treat survivors and victims of Grenfell Tower, one year on from the tragedy that claimed 72 lives.
Dr Philip Lee, an Elderly Care and Acute Medicine Physician at a West London teaching hospital, was summoned out of bed at 3.39am and called into work – where he immediately set about treating survivors of the blaze.
Lee recounted on Twitter how the night unfolded, before paying tribute both to the firefighters who were battling to bring residents out alive and the Grenfell residents themselves, who showed “quiet dignity” in the face of unimaginable horror.
Trigger warning: (#Grenfell)— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
"Wake up, your phone keeps buzzing."
14th of June, 2017. 3:39 AM
I sat up, I was not on call, I looked at my phone. Two missed calls and a text from NHS-NoReply
I dialed the given number and punched in the code, rubbing my eyes.
He went on to describe the disorientation that faced him both before and after he arrived at the hospital:
"What is it?"— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
"Major incident, fire in West London apparently." I replied. Heading out of bed to the shower as my wife headed to the kitchen, turning on the TV on the way.
The tepid water woke me up, it was a hot, humid night.
"How bad is it?" I shouted.
"Bad. Really bad. Go."— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
I grabbed the coffee she handed me and jumped in the car. I caught a glimpse of BBC news on the way out.
Growing up in Hong Kong I've seen high rise fires. This was nothing like what I've seen before.
4:20 AM— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
The streets were empty, the occasional couplet of fire engines and police rush past me.
Inside the hospital, there was no chaos, no shouting, the emergency dept consultants were in, I joined my colleagues at the briefing.
At that point, we had 40 consultants in.
We had medical consultants clearing the wards of patients ready for discharge, resus was busy and filled with sick patients. I was assigned to the urgent care centre, to help treat P3 patients.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
I joined my colleagues there, as patients streamed in.
Seeing and treating injuries and smoke inhalation that day, hearing the stories of escape, the frightened looks, the quiet dignity of the residents, was harrowing. But nothing compared to the horrors they've witnessed.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
Lee, who was born in Hong Kong and has worked as a physician for 14 years, went on to describe the bravery of the firefighters and police officers on the scene, and how unprecedented the situation they were facing was:
Injured fire crew were brought in, after treatment, their first question was "Can I head back out?"— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
One firefighter kept saying, "The whole thing went up, it's not supposed to do that. It's not supposed to do that."
Their bravery was humbling.
One police officer later told me he had to use a riot shield to protect firefighters running into the building from burning debris, and falling people.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
We had little experience on this volume of smoke inhalation in London. Critical care beds were quickly cleared.
The 15-tweet thread shed light on the vital actions of those that were tasked with treating victims and the survivors – something that may have been forgotten over the past year.
Patients with smoke inhalation can deteriorate quickly, going from a P3 (walking wounded) to P1 (immediate) within moments.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
We had to react quickly, gathering available supplies of steroids, nebulisers, deciding who could go home, who needed to stay.
One thing that stuck with me that day, the smell. A terrible, sweet, burnt smell that was everywhere, on the patients, on our clothes, on the wards.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
I still can see that night if I smell a bonfire.
Lee went on to reveal that the tower his patients had escaped from was visible from his hospital ward, and that the full scale of the tragedy was still very unclear in the hours and days afterwards as he attempted to process what he had witnessed.
I remember at 2pm, I sat in the ward office, The first time I sat down and rested til then. I had eaten half a sandwich, and I dozed off for 10 minutes, Grenfell visible from our window, still smouldering.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
I wondered how many more were inside, how many more were coming.
Three and a half hours, we were stood down.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
I remember driving home in silence, the smell still on me, I wanted to cry, for the survivors, for those who died in that most terrible way, but there were no tears. Just a deep, silent sadness.
He ended the thread by explaining how he is still suffering the effects of that night, months afterwards.
That was our third major incident that year, it would not be our last. Then we slipped into a harsh winter.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
Some months later, I remember walking home from the station, I had my headphones on, listening to a Spotify recommend playlist.
A song came on, at the time I didn't know what it was, and a line went:— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
I'd ask you to be true
Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you"
The stories I heard came flooding back, how they died going back for loved ones, to save others.
His closing tweet was a tribute to the victims, and a plea to ensure that an incident of the same nature is never repeated:
I burst into tears, weeping on the side of a street on the other side of London. People passed, looking uncomprehendingly, as I sobbed.— Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) June 13, 2018
For all the victims
For all the survivors
I'm sorry, we did our best, I promise
Next time, we'll be even more ready#GrenfellTowerFire
Twitter users were quick to react to Lee’s recount, offering their thanks and assuring him that he had no reason to feel guilty about the events that he witnessed:
Amazing work. And thank you for sharing— Ciara Nic Sheáin (@Ciara87C) June 13, 2018
Heroes— RadioactiveFM Claire (@ClairesOnAir) June 14, 2018
Every single one of you
Every single medical worker.
Every single fire fighter.
Every single police officer.
Every single person who tried to help.
Your tweet moved me to tears. Thank you for responding to the call and to all emergency personnel who did so much that night, and every day.— Judith H #FBPE (@judithh2478) June 14, 2018
The fire, which broke out on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower in Notting Hill’s Lancaster West Estate, raged for over 24 hours before finally being extinguished just after 1am on Thursday 15th June.
It claimed 72 lives. The oldest victim was 84-year-old Sheila, whilst the youngest, Logan Gomes, was stillborn at seven months just hours after the tragedy. His parents Marcio and Andreia and sisters Megan and Luana survived the fire.
An official inquiry was opened on 14th September 2017. There has been a pause in proceedings today, to mark the one year anniversary of the disaster.