Behind The Mask

NHS Exhausted nurse in a corridor

Glenn Dene discusses his book, ‘Behind the Mask’, which documents photographs of staff at the Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny, working through the Covid-19 pandemic.  Glenn answers questions about the book, his views on the NHS and how his education impacted on his life.

1)What is your book about?

‘Behind the Mask’ is a collection of photographs and quotes from staff at Nevill Hall Hospital during the pandemic. It documents our fight with Covid-19 with contributions from Ami Jones MBE, Michael Sheen, Jamie Roberts and staff at the Hospital. 

2) Why did you write it?

NHS Exhausted nurse in a corridorWhen elective surgery grounded to a halt, I knew that I needed to document the biggest fight the NHS has ever faced. I contacted the communications team at the Aneurin Bevan Health Board and they were unbelievably supportive and have continued to be. It’s an historical document and something to looked back on for years to come. 

3) What was the experience of creating it like? 

I can’t speak highly enough of my friends and colleagues. It really is about them. Yes, as a member of the team that is still dealing with Covid-19, I played my role. But this is really about them. ITU, Theatres, Obstetrics were the main areas I covered but Nevill Hall as a whole from domestics right up to the band 7 Leads played their part.  They were welcoming of me and we created something really special together. Graffeg Publishing is an incredible publishing company and even though I had a few others contact me, they were passionate about publishing my work and they dealt with everything, allowing me to concentrate on photographing and talking with staff.                                             

4) What do you hope people will get or experience or learn from the book? 

Grieving family outside hospitalThe truth of what went on and how difficult it was but also the value of the NHS and Key workers. It would have been easy for me to photograph my mates in PPE for a couple of weeks and totally ignore ITU and Obstetrics but that just wouldn’t be fair and wouldn’t do it justice. We didn’t take a step back and as always we put our patients first, even before our families. Some of my colleagues didn’t see their children for six weeks.

5) What has it been like being a Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) during this pandemic?

We were part of the Emergency Airway teams which means that we were bleeped whenever a patient needed to be intubated. Airway management, arterial lines, central line insertions and cannulation being just some of the tasks we assist with. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was and still is very difficult and has made the job ten times harder but is a must.

6) What made you want to be an ODP?

I want to help people and I wanted to be part of a team that makes a difference. I have bad days, when I think it would be easier to do something else. It’s up’s and down’s but ultimately, I love being an ODP.   

7) What do you hope for the future of the NHS?
Medical staff in corridor clapping as ex-Covid patient leaves hospitalOf course, I worry about under staffing and under funding. I’m anxious about my colleagues regarding our mental health. A few of my friends are struggling and when the second wave began, we were so mentally and physically drained that I didn’t think we’d have enough staff to deal with it. But we’re still here, still fighting and looking after one another. Aneurin Bevan said that the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it. I certainly will, wherever I am in life. It means that much. 

8) How long have you been into photography? My wife Angharad bought me a camera just over six years ago and I really had no interest! But one day, out of pure boredom, I took a walk at sunset and that was it, I couldn’t put the camera down. I have my wife to thank for my love of photography and the journey I’m on.

9) What is it about photography that you like?

I love being creative with photography. Whether it’s a self-portrait, landscape or documentary style. A photograph can be so powerful and I want my images to be remembered. I don’t care if ‘Glenn Dene’ isn’t spoken again. The images are the most important. Many of my Covid images have been printed and preserved at the National Library of Wales and that makes me so happy.

10) What upcoming photography projects have you got planned?

I’m still documenting Covid and have a few projects planned. I’m working with some current and retired rugby players on a project which focusses on mental health and other issues, showing a different side to then rugby player. Amateur and Professional, male and female. Sometimes the battle isn’t just on the rugby field.

Medical Professional in full PPE at work11) How has the book been promoted? 

I’ve appeared on many podcasts, in newspapers and magazines. The BBC and BBC Radio, Capital and Heart Radio. It reached No1 on the Amazon Photojournalism Chart which really helped in promoting the book further, especially through social media.

12) Where can people buy the book?

‘Behind the Mask’ is available on Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths, Bookish and many many more. It can also be purchased through Graffeg Publishing. 

13) What has being an ODP taught you?

Being an ODP has of course taught me emergency procedures and in-depth knowledge of anaesthetics (which I specialise in). But most of all its taught me how to speak to people. I was pretty shy and awkward originally. It’s taught me to have empathy for people perhaps more than before I worked in healthcare. I have more compassion and am more understanding to the needs of staff and patients. I’ve learned that we’re very much needed in healthcare and that theatres turn to ODPs when there’s a problem. It’s also taught me the important of the right skill mix and team work. For example, we have a great relationship with Intensive care and obstetrics. That really pays off during difficult times.

14) Closeup of surgeon in operating theatreHow did your education impact on your life? Without education I wouldn’t be where I am now. I dropped out of college in my second year. I eventually attended university and it changed me as a person. I was out of my comfort zone-I had to be vocal, I had to step up academically or I would fail. It made me more confident, more outgoing and university is what changed my journey in life. I started to back myself and that’s one of the most important lessons I learned. To back yourself, the more people say I can’t do something, the more my desire to prove them wrong. University gave me drive and a qualification that opened doors for me. Not having an education wouldn’t have opened doors for me. And I certainly wouldn’t have had the honour of photographing a pandemic.

15) What do you hope people learn from this pandemic? As I previously mentioned how we rely on each other but also the NHS is worth its weight in gold but we mustn’t abuse it. Social media is great for staying in touch and sharing important information. But it can also spread lies and ruin people’s lives. I wish people would stick to facts rather than believing a meme on Facebook. Many NHS staff have abandoned Facebook because of recent negativity towards them and conspiracy theorists.

Behind the Mask Book CoverThe book, Behind the Mask, was produced with the permission and support of Nevill Hall Hospital and will help raise money for NHS charities, including the Wales Air Ambulance.

Photo of Glenn DeneGlenn Dene is an Operating Department Practitioner at Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny. He started out in the NHS in 2004 as a Theatre Assistant (TA) at the Royal Gwent Hospital. Eventually graduating from Cardiff University in 2012 as an ODP. He has worked at Nevill Hall Hospital for ten years and will soon move to the new Hospital in Llanfrechfa, The Grange University Hospital. He is also a photographer and a writer.


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