As a nurse I want to fix things, but coronavirus makes me feel helpless
As a nurse I’m used to seeing lives end – but nothing could have prepared me for witnessing people suffocate to death from coronavirus on my ward.
I’m currently on nights in the Oncology ward at a major trauma hospital in the Midlands. A typical shift of 12 and a half hours (I start at 7:30pm and usually finish at 8:00am, if I’m lucky) involves assessing cancer patients and administering different forms of chemotherapy.
Last weekend the seriousness of the situation hit home for me. My colleague’s mother-in-law, who had no past medical history, was brought to our hospital after feeling tired the day before. That morning she felt shortness of breath and started coughing – the following day she died from Covid-19. Visitors are currently banned, and this means that sadly means patients die surrounded by strangers.
Witnessing this woman struggle to breathe as she died was traumatic and I cried a lot after that shift. As a nurse all I want to do is fix things, and with this virus there is nothing I can do. For now, my role is the same, but I’m helping on other wards filled with ‘query Covid’ patients (those showing symptoms but the swabs haven’t come back to confirm) and those who have tested positive.
This worries me because we currently have to share goggles and clean them ‘as best you can’, and I’m scared of contracting the virus, having no symptoms and passing it on to one of my chemo patients with a low immune system.
30 per cent of my team have been told they can’t work for three months (they are either pregnant or have underlying health issues) and that’s before colleagues with symptoms take two weeks off to self-isolate. Once I’m off nights I’ll be picking up more day shifts to help keep the system going.
Earlier this week I wasn’t allowed to attend my grandma’s funeral in Manchester, which was so upsetting. She was 88 and passed away three weeks ago following complications from a routine knee operation. I felt guilty for not being there even though I knew it was the safest choice.
A small number of my family were allowed to attend – apart from my sister, who is a primary school teacher and therefore a key worker for the children still attending school –and we watched the service through a live webcam. It was such a surreal and sad experience. Certainly not the send off we would have liked to have given my grandma – she deserved so much better. It’s just awful that so many families will be going through the same thing and there’s nothing that we can do.
I live with my boyfriend and my parents regularly call to tell me how proud they are of me, but they are worried about my safety because I may be 27, but I’m not invincible to this virus and I’m in contact with it almost every day. I can’t lie, it’s hard knowing I won’t see my mum for the next three or four months.
The mental health of NHS staff is a real concern. At the moment we don’t have time to process the horrors we have seen, but I think so many doctors and nurses are going to suffer from post-traumatic stress after the virus is beaten. And making matters worse, some of my colleagues have had their badges stolen, which I’m guessing is either to access our equipment – like anti-bacterial wipes and surgical masks – or be able to food shop as a priority person.
While the government has bowed to public pressure and said NHS staff will be given free parking during the outbreak (it should be all the time, in my opinion), until April I am still paying £9.99 a day to access my hospital and it makes me so angry.
That said, I am genuinely grateful for the support from the public – hearing the nation unitedly clap on Thursday made me feel emotional – but I still feel not enough people are taking the pandemic seriously.
We NHS workers often feel out of our depth and fearful of the future, meanwhile people are still leaving their houses for non-essential travel. And the ones that are staying in are complaining about it. I wish I had that luxury! Who knows how long lockdown will last, but please stay indoors, everyone, it could genuinely save a life.