The skill swap — an eSwapp story

Chapter 1 of "The skill swap'. We meet Kwame and Stephanie, two NHS workers who have developed a passion for learning a new skill during the coronavirus pandemic. *This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.*

Stephanie and Kwame both work in the NHS. Stephanie has worked as a radiographer in a London hospital for the past 6 years. She moved to London from Sheffield after completing her university degree there and has since then been living in a flat-share with a group of friends. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Stephanie has endured a series of difficulties that have made her life, at work and at home, much more difficult than she had expected. As a result of the ‘all hands on deck’ spirit on the covid wards, Stephanie has worked extra shifts, outside of her specialism in radiography, to keep her colleagues on the front line afloat. The extra hours, and the intensity that work on the front line of a pandemic entails, have left Stephanie exhausted, physically and mentally. At times when she’d normally be socialising with her flatmates, exercising, or going out, Stephanie has either been at work or has been trying to recover in time for her next shift.  Meditation has allowed her to maintain mental clarity and it gave her the resilience to turn up to work each day ready to tackle the unexpected. Luckily for Stephanie, she already had several years of experience in meditation before the pandemic started. This meant that she already had a degree of preparation for coping with episodes of mental fatigue.

Kwame and Stephanie on shift in their respective hospitals

Just before the first lockdown in March 2020, Stephanie started to make plans to learn the piano. One of her earliest memories is visiting her grandparents in Italy and listening to her grandfather’s delicate playing of the old piano they kept in the corner of their living room. As far back as that moment, Stephanie has wanted to learn to play piano like her grandfather but she has never had the time. She found a cheap keyboard for sale in a local Facebook group and started to look into lessons about two weeks before the first lockdown was announced. However, from the first weeks of the pandemic until now, Stephanie’s life has been consumed by her job. She has had no time to commit to her learning outside of work. 

Although the intensity of the second wave of the pandemic has now mostly subsided, Stephanie’s work has not completely returned to normal. Due to the backlog of patients caused by the pandemic, Stephanie has been confronted with a hectic schedule of routine x-rays that have been postponed from months ago. Though her work is still demanding and often leaves her feeling tired, she is now working regular hours, which has made her life much easier. She has been keeping to a routine that allows her to plan things she enjoys for the evenings. At last, Stephanie has some time to fulfil her lifelong dream of learning to play piano. But she doesn’t know where to find a teacher…

Stephanie has dreamed of learning the piano since she was a child

Kwame is a consultant respiratory physician who has lived and worked in Glasgow for 20 years. He lives with his wife in a modest semi-detached house in the West End. Before he moved to Glasgow to take up his consultant position, Kwame was a keen pianist. As a student he performed as the lead pianist in his university’s jazz ensemble. Though he kept up his practice for a few years after he graduated, Kwame found that his home life and work got in the way and he couldn’t commit enough time to his piano. 

Kwame has had an exceptionally challenging pandemic. As one of the senior respiratory doctors in his hospital, he has dealt with the most severe covid cases, day in day out. Through helping to deal with issues in the supply of ventilators, to coordinating his hospital’s general response to the peaks of the pandemic, Kwame has played an essential role in saving people’s lives. While he has been spending the majority of his waking life caring for the health and wellbeing of others, he has developed a tendency to let his own welfare slip by the wayside. Several times during the past year and a half, Kwame has felt the effects of ‘burnout’ from work, and the unsociable hours he has worked have often left him feeling lonely and isolated. 

Kwame has had some more breathing space in the wake of the virus’ second wave so he has decided to make a long-term commitment to keeping his mental health in check. One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic for him is that, although it took somewhat of a battering, he has become more aware of and paid more attention to his state of mind. By conducting some cursory online research, Kwame has developed an interest in meditation as a way to prolong this awareness. But, he doesn’t quite know where to start. The YouTube videos and free online courses he has tried so far haven’t worked for him and after his attempts to meditate he is often left feeling agitated and unsatisfied. What Kwame is really interested in is being taught how to meditate by someone he can relate to. He wants to learn meditation from someone who can help him tailor his practice to his life.

Kwame wants to learn meditation to maintain an awareness of his state of mind

Kwame has also developed a rejuvenated interest in the piano. Having dusted off his keys and tinkled the ivories for the first time in several years, he has noticed that his desired sense of inner calm might lay in the notes of a jazz scale. But, again, he’s struggling to motivate himself. Without his ensemble or a partner to practice with, Kwame often finds that playing alone can quickly become lonely and unfulfilling. 

During a recent lunch break while Kwame was in the staff canteen, he overheard one of his colleagues talking about a new software platform that matches two people together to teach and learn from one another. He hadn’t heard of this way of learning new skills but it seemed so obvious, Skill-swapping seemed like the perfect thing to fulfil his desires of learning meditation, and to make use of his dormant skills in piano. He realised that he could offer someone a crash course in jazz piano, helping them through the basic techniques of playing, and a few easy pieces, if they could help him to learn meditation. He might even make a new friend in the process! After work that day, Kwame searched for eSwapp on his phone and decided to sign up to learn meditation and teach piano… 

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