Over the past few months I've has the pleasure of speaking with so many nurses from all over the world. I wanted to get their perspective on COVID-19, I wanted to understand the impact on their lives. We see politicians and news reporters everyday hammering on about the 'stress on the NHS', their not wrong, but I feel the fundamental strings in the tapastry are often neglected; nurses. It's easy to expect and overlook the work of nurses and doctors alike, but when you look deeper into their lives, even just scratching at the surface you realise it's something that can't be ignored. Whilst I've experienced such admiration when speaking to the nurses, so many issues have been raised such as universities, politics, management, PPE, working hours, ineffective teams, unqualified staff... the list could go on. However, taking it in their stride, the nurses have powered through the emotional torment of COVID, battling to save the lives of people everyday. Rather than me bambling on, you can see their stories from their perspective below.
Amy Tootle (Liverpool, UK):
So I’m a third year student nurse at uni of Liverpool, we’ve just finished our 10 week placement last week which was cut short early in order for us to prepare for our assignments which some have been cut but others been brought forward, this is so we can help an assist with the emergency of covid-19. As student nurses we was given the opportunity to sign a temporary register to become a qualified nurse and work on the front line, this meant having our own patients and administering medication to poorly people, also meaning you was no longer a student. A lot of us still aren’t fully confident to take our own patients as we still have 6 months to qualify so this was daunting. The university offered us another option, to keep the student status and be a band 4, which is one band below a nurse, we would also be paid for this and the hours we would do go towards our degree. This is the option which has suited a lot of students in my cohort and we have opted in as this to also help out on the front line. As a lot of us live with family and other friends, some of us including myself has opted in to move out of our family homes and ask for accommodation from the university, who have been absolutely amazing with offering support and any guidance we’ve need. Overall during this emergency it is hard to prepare yourself to go into work and not know what your walking into but I know that there is so many NHS staff working their hardest to help and support all the patients whether they have tested positive or not. I just hope that everyone is safe.
Felicia Setthammar (Sweden):
Hello! My name is Felicia and I am a nurse working at Örebro University Hospital in Sweden. 4 weeks ago our unit changed from being a lung departement to a COVID- unit. The virus have changed so much with more shifts and irregular hours. Now they say that we might not even have our vacation in the summer... Personally this situation have made me more anxious about going to work because now you don’t know what kind of patients you Will have or in what shape they Will be in.The hardest is not knowing the outcome for each of them. Will they die? Will they ever see their loved ones again? Taking care of Young patients that don't have any risk factors and are healthy and try to explain how this happen and they might not survive this. Emotionally it is hardest to not hold their hand or give them a hug without protection gears. My wish is that everyone is taking responsibility and follow the government's regulations. I just want this to be over and have a good nights sleep with out nightmares about work! Thank you!
Katie Shimmel (Cornwall, UK):
I am working as a nursing assistant at the John Radcliffe hospital during my last year of my Biomedical Science degree because I wanted proper experience in a clinical setting before I graduated. I started in the middle of March and within 2 shifts my ward was changed from a vascular surgery ward to a COVID-19 ward, and I was thrown into the deep end because my role is very hands on, with near constant physical contact with the patients. Because of this change, I had to consider applying for emergency accommodation as I didn’t want to risk the health of my housemates, but luckily for me they were very understanding and I was able to stay. This has however meant that I won’t be able to go home and see my family until this is over. Because I’m a student and have a second job at the hospital, I was only contracted to work 15hr/week but because of the drop in staff, I have been working 30+ hours. My university have been less than helpful and have decided not to implement a no detriment policy like other universities, which means that I am still having to revise as hard as I would normally despite being pretty much full time on a COVID ward. Not only is it demanding of my time, but emotionally it has been difficult.
Not only is it demanding of my time, but emotionally it has been difficult. The ward I am working on has patients that may recover, and patients who are palliative because of COVID. So although it is great to be able to discharge patients, we also have to deal with the loss of other patients. A lot of them are too weak to move and only feel pain, and it is distressing watching someone try so hard just to breathe. The ward has a patient phone so the patients can have final conversations with family members which is heartbreaking. It is also scary to only have gloves, aprons (bin liner material) masks and glasses to protect ourselves and know that realistically it is inevitable that we will get the disease. It seems that full on protective gear is reserved only for staff on intensive care wards, even though the risk of infection is pretty much the same on all positive COVID wards. I have stopped worrying that I will get it but I am scared that I will give it to someone else in case they suffer badly with it.
Tianah Destiny (Kenya):
I am a screening nurse for COVID-19 but we don’t have everything we need for it. At the moment we have masks and sanitisers but despite not having the right equipment, I have to do it. I have to make sure my patients are safe and ensure that they don’t end up in critical condition. They have to put on masks and be screened and keep 1 meter apart. We don’t have adequate instruments and one of the struggles is as a nurse, my job role covers so much. One minute I’ll be screening, the next I’ll be on another ward. It's hard. I didn’t know too much about COVID or what their outcome would be, I was just told we had to be incredibly careful. Through COVID I have learnt that things can just happen financially, economically, personally, emotionally, physically, you have to be prepared. As emotionally challenging and draining as it is, we have to carry on. I could be screening more than 100 people and I have to also do other duties. I’ve had to create my own work plan otherwise I won’t get anything I want to do. Our government is trying really hard, so for that I am thankful.
Gosia Trojan (Poland):
I am a psychiatric nurse who usually works in the ward for youth with mental disorders. Because of the pandemic, the hospital I work for opened a special ward for those who are COVID positive and are additionally mentally ill or mentally disabled (quite a combination I admit). I moved there and it is predicted that I will need to help there as late as June. Currently, 7 patients are hospitalized there from 20 to 70 years old.
Obviously, getting the news that you are now obliged to work with those infected is quite terrifying. Before entering the ward, I subconsciously perceived these patients not as individuals but more as possible sources of disease, which I believe is quite a natural survival instinct in this situation. However, when I started working there I experienced a profound change in my attitude. The fear transformed into compassion when I saw that people who already struggle with their mental disorder are now also forced to face all the inconveniences linked with being quarantined. Observing such a huge shift in my perception was something I remembered most vividly.
The shift system I works in has changed. Previously, my shifts would be 12 hrs with one or two days break and now its 24 hrs in the following system: 4 hours working – 4 hours break repeated several times with 2/3 days break between. Another quite interesting aspect to describe is that now nurses from different hospital wards were mixed up at this ward so they are required to work outside their usual team, which, considering that they are working in quite nerve-wracking conditions, tends to generate conflicts.
One nice experience from the ward could be the fact that actually from all 7 patients they take care of none of them is experiencing severe symptoms that for example would require them to be supported by a respirator, which is a huge surprise. Even the oldest patient who is about 70 y.o. and so is in the highest-risk group doesn’t exhibit any threatening symptoms. He even asked me for a cigarette recently lol!
Anonymous (Greece and the UK):
I was not planning to be a nurse. It just happened. Not that I don’t like it or I have regretted it (at least not totally), but sure, if I could go back in time knowing what I have learnt during the last 10 years of working as a nurse I would have made a different choice.
I've been a qualified nurse since 2007. I started with a dream to save the world, save lives, improve nursing care for patients, improve working conditions for hospital employees. 13 years later the pandemic found me managing the nursing recruitment and retention strategy at an NHS hospital. I was not clinical anymore. I was working with numbers ... vacancies, full time equivalents, numbers of new recruits, money that we have to spend in order to cover the vacant posts. At the same time I had to take care of those new nurses who were joining the NHS, I had to make sure that everything was in place for them, facilitate them to open bank accounts, rent houses and bring their families over. I had to make sure but they will stay happy and they will continue offering their services for the NHS.
And then the lockdown.
It looks like the people in higher roles were digging out of the drawers the emergency situation plans… I think that this was back in February. I’m now redeployed in intensive care because of my previous clinical experience. I work three 12 hours’ shifts per week. I wasn’t surprised when my manager asked me to move there. I was kind of looking forward to it.
People/friends/family are asking me “how is it?” “Is it crazy busy?” - No, hospital grounds are actually more quiet than ever. There are no outpatients, no elective operations, no relatives. If your job is not vital for the hospital you can work from home, so, hospital grounds are quiet. “What about the ICU?” There, it’s a different story… hospitals which previously had 7 ICU beds now are going up to 50 and those previously had 30 ICU beds can go up to 200. “…and what happened with nurses?” ICU nurses and not so many… ICU patients usually need 1:1 care. These days one ICU trained nurse supervises three or four nurses from different specialities. I’m amazed by how quickly the nurses learn new skills and how much they want to offer. Scrub nurses with 15 years of experience in operating theatres, who have never used pumps or have given any medication learned so quickly. I am amazed by how quickly we have made so many ICU nurses. Previously ICU was supposed to be for highly skilled and knowledgeable nurses. Friends will ask me “Is it busy?” it can be busy, it can be hectic but can also be alright. “What has changed?” The PPE has changed; it is painful! Other than that you have to look after very sick patients.
“And what about patients?” I haven’t witnessed any death, but it happens. I’m sad when the doctors sign a DNR form. I’m sad when I see them coming into the ICU awake, struggling to breathe and a few minutes later they are intubated as our last effort to get some oxygen down into their lungs. I’m happy when my patients are getting better. I’m happy when they are able to breathe.
“Are you tired?” -It’s normal. I am a nurse. It’s not more tiring than my previous shifts as an ICU nurse. I’m happy that I’m able to go to work during the lockdown, I do not cope very well staying at home all day. “How do you feel?” -I don’t know! My brain says, let’s do it and get over it. It is what it is now. Maybe if the lockdown had happened earlier we would have avoided many deaths. But what bothers me most… My colleagues are posing with Easter eggs and creams and freebies which arrive in loads nowadays.The food that we have for free. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate any help that comes from the people. But it’s going to be only for these difficult months. When this comes to an end, the nurses will have to pay for a cuppa during their short break. When all this ends, nurses and carers will still be underpaid, undervalued and happy to pose with like natives in America when Europeans were trying to get their land for nothing. I want to be able to work in a safe, fully staffed environment without being based on philanthropies to do my job.
I’m more than happy that I am able to work and help these days, but if I had a chance to choose a different job, I would do it. The funniest part of the story is that I will keep on recruiting nurses for the NHS when COVID dies. Can the NHS help me a bit with that? Take care of the people who take care of you.
Barbara Viegas (Brazil)
With the beginning of the pandemic,
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was on the front line during most days. Brazil at the time had the highest number of deaths amongst health professionals, which of course left me feeling many kinds of ways. Fear mostly. Fear for my many and my health. Everyday was a battle as we constantly had to balance our own health with those of the patients who desperately needed us. I wouldn't have it any other way, I love my job.
This is a new disease which is why most of us were so scared. We were nervous about both the long term and short term effects, none of us knew what could happen. It's the unknown that often ends up arousing fear in us. But equally, the love we have for our profession and patients speaks much louder than any disease that could confront us.
This is the worst thing I've ever experienced, it's hard to put into words. I often come home and I won't speak to my family, I just want to be alone in the time that I can. Processing anything that I can
in the brief hours I get off. It chaos here, I don't think anyone understands. I saw it being broadcasted on the news worldwide, I thought we'd get some help, we haven't. People here aren't listening to the lockdown rules, its evident because there are constant streams of new people coming in needing help. I've seen a horrendous amount of people pass onto the next life, the suffering of families and desperation of doctors trying to save as many people as we can with the little we have. My baby sister works in a hospital in the South, a small one and she's the only doctor. The only doctor in a hospital of over 200 COVID patients. I can't comprehend. I love my job, but I can't believe how many people the government will allow to die for capitalism, financial gain, economic growth. He needs to come and experience this for himself. I walk into work everyday and I'm entering the gates of hell. Every now and again patients begin to get better and they are taken to a different ward, which warms my heart, but the hospital can't cope and its evident. I wish I could save everyone, give my own life to save theirs, but I just can't. Everyday my heart is so sore.
Stay Safe. Wash your hands. Look after each other x