Covid through the eyes of an ICU nurse.
Last year on the 23rdMarch 2020 I volunteered to work in the intensive care unit from my base which was a dermatology out-patients department. It has been a year since the Covid 19 outbreak happened. We were certain that we would be redeployed to other areas. Since I had ICU experience I was happy to go and work there. One of my colleagues who also had ICU experience was motivated and followed me and we worked there for more than five months. I would describe it as one of the most challenging and difficult times in my career as a nurse. It was not knowing what to expect and learning from every experience that we had. The doctors and the medical team were also not aware of the protocols they had to follow.
During the first week, we were given training to deal with the pandemic as we were all new to this. First we had a demonstration on how to don and doff the personal protective equipment, next we had training on how to assist with the intubation and it was done as a team. On this occasion the consultant who led the training instructed said, “There is no emergency in a pandemic”. This was in my mind all through the pandemic We had to look after ourselves and our colleagues and never put ourselves at risk. We were also fit tested for the tight respirator mask. Next we had training on how to prone a patient. This was also new to us. It involves rolling the patient and laying the patient on their tummy. We were asked to write our names on the PPE as we were not able to identify each other since we all looked the same in our PPE. Some of the nursing teams who had come to work from other departments were so upset and left to work at their base, since they were not able to cope with the situation. We had to complete an induction pack and as soon as we were signed off we were ready to work and support the intensive care nurses. We worked with them as their buddy. Life in the ICU can be tough since we have to deal with life and death minute to minute. This was even worse during the pandemic.
Covid 19 has not changed the level of care that was given, in fact we, the healthcare workers tried to do even better than we did before. It was inspiring to see that everyone worked together as a team and supported each other to provide the high standard of care even under the difficult circumstances. My manager was very supportive, she made sure we had the right PPE at all times. She made sure that we had the antibody testing done and looked after the wellbeing of the staff. We were all supporting each other and I am really proud to say that I worked with a fantastic team. The hospital even provided free accommodation for staff who wanted to stay away and protect their family. I used this facility and stayed in the hospital accommodation, it was difficult but I had to do it to protect my husband and daughter.
Our operating theatres were shut and stripped bare of equipment and resources for use in the ICU. We could see the tears even though the mask, which shielded our emotion. The eyes could say it all! We worked our socks off and there were times when I thought that I would be one of the patients in the ICU and also discussed how to be looked after while put on a ventilator. The pandemic has made me reflect more on my practice and I want to do more and learn more. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me. Entering the unknown was definitely the scariest part of the pandemic to all the medical team caring for Covid19 patients.
I found the difficult and emotionally heart-breaking part was family not being allowed to visit their dying relative, as there were strict rules that no family was allowed to visit the hospital during the first phase. During this time we had many of our patients dying every day. Prior to the pandemic we could see critically ill patients recover and leave the ICU with a smile on their face, but now we had to be there and give them a hand to hold on before they took their last breath. There were many times I was thankful for the PPE since it hid a lot of the tears that I shed. It made me feel that I was locked in an airtight container but it did protect me and camouflaged my feelings.
I had to stay away from my family in the hospital accommodation. During this time the only comfort that I had, was watching Mass on line, listening to catholic devotional songs and having zoom calls with family back at home. I used to recite the Psalm 91 and 23 every day before and after work. My family back in India were all very concerned about me since I was the only nurse in the family working on the frontline during the pandemic. My aunty even volunteered to look after my daughter but that was not required.
I am proud to have been a part of a fantastic team during the first wave. When I took my new job in a different trust I was redeployed to work in the ventilation in-patient centre during the second wave. I will treasure all the memories which the pandemic has left; the laughs we shared during difficult times, the bear hugs by my colleagues, the lovely friends I made, the face of the people who survived this pandemic and left the ICU, the clap for the NHS staff every Thursday, the scrubs made for the staff by many volunteers, the food donated by many people. This pandemic had taught me that life is precious and I hug my children a little tighter and forgive more, realising that there is more to be alive and I thank the one above for protecting us all.
Unfortunately my husband lost his friend and colleague during the first wave in the pandemic; it was a difficult time for us as a family. Being far away from family was difficult and we have not been able to visit our family for more than two years now. We were planning to go to India during the summer holidays to attend my cousins wedding, but everything had to be cancelled. I thank everyone who helped me during this pandemic from the cleaner to the consultant who all worked together and made it through.