A wife talks to her husband on speaker phone in a Welsh hospital, desperate to hear from him before doctors place him on a ventilator.

There is some banter and reassurance, the kind of thing you would expect between a loving husband and wife.

Moments later, the husband is in cardiac arrest. Doctors revive him and there is some relief. Then, half an hour later, some of the staff there at the time he was brought back to life find out he didn't make it after all, and relief turns to despair.

There are tears.

But that's just daily life now in one of Wales' busiest hospitals.

The story is told by theatre operator Glenn Dene, who has spoken of the shocking, heartbreaking toll of working on the coronavirus front line.

Glenn said he had seen people in tears and he knew of some NHS workers who had even attempted to harm themselves because of the mental struggle of having to deal with the pandemic.

All the while, he said, they were seeing conspiracy theories floated on social media, making all manner of false claims about the virus and how busy hospitals are.

Glenn, from Abergavenny, moved from the town’s Nevill Hall Hospital to the new Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran in the autumn. He said morale reached an "all time low" as Covid cases soared over Christmas.

"It's stressful, very stressful and the mental health side of it concerns me quite a bit," the 38-year-old said.

"The impact it will have on people even after Covid has gone, mentally and physically, will be around for a long time."

NHS worker Glenn Dene
Mr Dene said his biggest concern was the impact on mental health

Mr Dene, who also takes pictures in hospital to show the work going on there, said the first wave was busy but the second wave had been on "a whole new level", while simultaneously, short staffing levels meant staff were covering departments they hadn't worked in before, such as the intensive therapy unit (ITU).

"I can work in ITU because of my job role, but we're having to move a lot of people, from theatres and physios, qualified and not qualified staff, to help out in ITU. There's a lot of stress and sickness, it's just so busy.

"People are having to pick up extra hours when they maybe wouldn't want to. We're struggling to take annual leave because it's so short-staffed."

Harrowing scenes inside the ICU at The Grange in Cwmbran
It's still very busy in hospitals despite coronavirus case rate figures gradually declining
Front line staff hard at work

The physical stresses of working at a hospital during the pandemic might be difficult enough, but Mr Dene said his biggest concern right now was the mental health of his colleagues.

"You get some good news one minute, then the bad news drags you back down again," he explained.

"I was involved in a case last week where I went up to a Covid ward to intubate someone with the anaesthetist and another colleague. We were listening to his wife on speaker phone, she wanted to speak to him before he went on a ventilator and he was reassuring her, there was a bit of banter.

"But after we put him to sleep he went into cardiac arrest. We're in PPE doing chest compressions and go into ITU where it's absolutely packed, we can barely get through the corridors and he cardiac arrests again. We bring him back and feel relief and then found out half an hour later that he passed away.

"[In ITU] you'll see nurses crying, there was even a massive guy there this week who clearly works out who had a bit of a cry one afternoon. And they're your mates, you're seeing them breaking down."

He said there was a huge amount of empathy and camaraderie amongst staff members, who understood exactly what each other were going through.

However, he said: "I've never seen so many people that are struggling from a standpoint, and people are burnt out."

Staff supporting each other behind the scenes at the Grange Hospital
Mr Dene said it was an emotional time for all hospital workers
A patient being treated at the Grange

Mr Dene works part-time as a photographer and throughout the pandemic has been allowed to document staff and patients in the intensive care unit, capturing some of the most raw and emotional moments on the front line.

Some of the motivation behind this, other than documenting history, comes from Mr Dene's anger at those flouting Level 4 restrictions and conspiracy theorists. He wants to give the public a true representation of what families and staff go through on a daily basis.

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He said: "[Last week] I was off duty and went down to ITU to take some photos and a late 40s gentleman passed away. I stayed to help the nurse [deal with] the body, she was so calm, and then she talked to the family on the phone. When I left, the family was outside breaking down with nurses comforting them.

"I don't think people realise what it's actually like, especially those conspiracy theorists.

"It's mainly keyboard warriors, I try not to waste time replying if I see them, but I think there is a small percentage of the nation who maybe don't have a (social media) profile picture and comment these things just to get people to bite."

Staff helping a coronavirus patient
A hopital worker at the Grange
Staff at the Grange helping a coronavirus patient in ITU

Yet another massive strain on the mental health of staff was "seeing too much and knowing too much", Mr Dene said.

He said he experienced this when he contracted the virus himself.

He said: "Leading up to Christmas I started to feel really tired and run down but I put it down to the time of the year and being busy in work..

Two days after struggling to breathe, on Boxing Day, he received a positive coronavirus test result and was convinced he would be going to ITU - the same one he had been taking pictures at.

"When I had Covid, I had a massive anxiety panic attack because I'd seen some people I used to work with in the Gwent on ventilators, people you see who are usually fit and well," he said.

"I think because of the things I'd seen, it triggered some sort of anxiety attack.

"I was bedridden and lost over half a stone and I'm still having to take my time. I was doing CPR the other day and the colleague I was with has long Covid. When we got back, we were both on our pumps and I thought 'When did this change?' 'How did it end up like this?'."

Mr Dene suffered an anxiety attack when he thought he would have to go into hospital

Despite the glimmer of hope with cases rates falling in Wales, the reality inside hospitals at the moment remains very bleak.

Mr Dene said he still hadn't seen evidence of the numbers dwindling inside the Grange, as intensive care units remained full to the brim, although he hoped to see an improvement "over the next few weeks".

But while the situation still remains so serious, he asks people to be mindful of their actions and to spare a thought for those who continue to die on, and work on the coronavirus front line.

He said: "Hopefully we’re on our way out of this nightmare we’ve all been going through. If you don’t agree, why take the risk anyway? It’s not just about helping the NHS, it’s about helping us all. Your family, friends and people you don’t even know.

"There will always be haters, hiding behind fake names and profiles. Ignore it, they won’t be remembered in the future but the people who made a difference to just one person's life will."