Lacrosse players doing ‘emotionally draining’ jobs need game to get elite status so they can train

It is rare that you will see sporting rivals from England, Scotland and Wales sit down together without an air of rivalry. But Emma Adams, Ailsa Stott and Eleanor Gaastra know only too well from their lives on and off the lacrosse field that these are not usual times.

Stott is Scotland’s head coach after an illustrious playing career, Gaastra the Wales captain and Adams a senior England player. And they have all been working at the sharp end of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Stott and Gaastra are doctors, Adams a police officer. The trio bond over what they all describe as an “emotionally draining” year in which their sport has been their escape.

They also wish to knock down national boundaries in a plea with the Government and sporting authorities to have lacrosse granted elite sport status. Without it, none of the three nations can train collectively in the build-up towards next year’s postponed World Championships in Maryland while in lockdown as the sport is designated “recreational”.

They also speak with a united front on the limitations of paying to play for your country. Gaastra, 32, an anaesthetist working in the intensive care unit of Salisbury General Hospital, has been dealing with some of the most vulnerable Covid-19 patients.

“We were learning about how to treat something that we hadn’t learnt in medical school or that we hadn’t seen before,” she says. “It doesn’t behave like other diseases. The way we were treating patients was actually changing week to week, or month to month.

“What we are doing now is very different to what we were doing six months ago for these patients. The research is happening on the job.

“Working in intensive care has been full of highs and lows. Some of the patients with coronavirus have been in intensive care for many weeks, and in some cases many months. We felt like we got to know them, especially as their families were not with them.

“We felt as intensive care staff, we were the ones to be really caring for them from that human perspective. When some of our long-stay patients left the ICU, we would clap them out of the ward; that was amazing.”

Gaastra’s voice breaks as she explains that some of her patients have not recovered. “Obviously, there were some equally low lows. There was one case, which did hit me quite hard,” she says.

“We had a patient who was with us for several weeks, and he wasn’t that old – early middle aged. And he died quite suddenly on one of my shifts. With his family having not seen him for weeks, having to break that news to the family was really heartbreaking. I won’t forget that.”

Although the conversation is on Zoom, there are nods of understanding from Adams and Stott. For Stott, who gave birth to Jonah last month, working as a general practitioner has been tough. Although she has got used to virtual consultations, the increased level of patients presenting with mental health issues has been the hidden epidemic behind the pandemic.

“The main impact of Covid, we have seen, are the mental health implications. I have seen a lot of patients with Covid as well but they tend not to be that sick and are at the other end of the scale to what Eleanor is seeing, but what we are seeing more of is the significant mental health impact of social isolation,” she says.

“It takes a bit of an emotional toll doing these consultations back to back. They are quite long often, you can’t just give a person five or 10 minutes, you have to give people the time that they need and you take on some of their worries and their burdens – that is how the consultation process works.

“Speaking to lots of worried, anxious or even suicidal patients, many more than I would have done in the past, is difficult.”

In the police, Adams has had her share of harrowing experiences and also points to the mental health crisis. The 25-year-old says: “We had to deal with a lot more suicides. For me it has been a massive learning curve on the lack of mental health support across England.

“One job, which really struck me, was dealing with a lady who said she wanted to end her own life and she had four very young children. She was only 23 herself. That was a situation I never found myself in before where I am trying to convince someone to stay alive for their children. Eventually, she got the help she needed, there was a win in that situation, but it hasn’t always been the case.

“That has been the most emotionally draining part of the job for me. I am able to switch off, but there are things like that which you cannot leave behind after you finish work for the day.”