Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
When the coronavirus pandemic first struck the UK, I found myself faced with a crucial decision. Currently working in research, my role at the Royal Brompton Hospital is to support patients through respiratory clinical trials, a position I had taken on over six months prior to the pandemic and thoroughly enjoy.
However, it remains a steep contrast to my background and first post as a nurse in acute cardiology, in which I spent almost three years developing my critical care skills.
Initially, when considering redeploying in response to the pandemic, I had concerns and alongside many of my colleagues, was fearful of so much uncertainty. As the need for trained medical staff grew, and with encouragement from my team in research and family, I volunteered for the NHS Nightingale London. I felt that my skills and clinical experience, in a sea of many other health professionals, were an invaluable resource in the preservation of life; one of the core values of nursing.
As quickly as the facility was constructed, induction of a variety of professionals took place, up skilling to the evolving needs of patients infected with the rapidly spreading novel virus.
Although not completely seamless, the process of both building and staffing the facility adequately is still, in my mind, a phenomenal feat. It was at induction that I met some of the team that I would come to work alongside closely. That strong sense of camaraderie was present from the very start of our journey, and undoubtedly put my apprehension at ease and gave me more courage to get involved.
Like many others working with the virus, I made the decision to temporarily move out of my family home. Thankfully, the Nightingale offered accommodation in hotels situated nearby to the facility.
Although a sacrifice to not see my family for a timeframe unknown, I had a now seemingly irrational fear that my work would expose them to the virus and so I felt intense relief that I had somewhere else to stay.
“Simple, but imperative tasks such as communicating with your colleagues became much more complex”
We all started our shift pattern of two day shifts, two night shifts; consecutive in a 50-hour week. My first shift was surreal but I remembered vividly walking into a colossal exhibition centre; the boulevard lined with closed eateries that once entertained visitors for leisure, and beyond a wall, a purpose-built intensive care unit, treating critically ill people. Following a fit test for my respirator, I entered the donning station and was assisted in armouring up in full PPE, a couple of twirls to eyeball for any breaches and a DIY fit check of my mask, I was good to go.
I entered the brightly lit exhibition hall and made my way to my assigned ward; Bedford B. A long stretch of hospital beds as far as my eyes could see, stood before me and a hive of almost identical PPE-laden people purposefully carried out routine clinical tasks.
Any acute setting in usual circumstances is physically, mentally and emotionally arduous, however, our job became far more labour intensive due to wearing PPE. Simple, but imperative tasks such as communicating with your colleagues became much more complex, often relying on hand gestures taught to us in our induction to execute instructions as coherently as possible.
Wearing a mask also took away the ability to see how someone is doing by their facial expression. A greater emphasis was placed on asking your team how they were, I also found that you can often see how someone is feeling by looking at their eyes; fatigued, frustrated, tearful, all emotions to spot and support.
Although formal methods of debriefing were in abundance, I found the more casual chats over a post shift meal in the canteen were usually a good place to go over both positive and negative moments from the shift and find mutual solace with the people who were experiencing the same things as you.
The Nightingale used crisis staffing ratios, which saw one nurse responsible for two or three critically ill patients with senior team supervision, instead of the standard one-to-one nursing care. We stretched our capabilities and worked in unprecedented circumstances.
Overcoming the guilt felt was essential when I wasn’t able to provide the one-to-one care that I was used to; I had to understand this was not my fault and focus on as a team giving the best care to my patients.
Although faced with many challenges at the Nightingale, it remains an incredibly positive experience in my career and one that I am very proud to have been a part of. I made a positive choice to temporarily redeploy from my role in research, and is an opportunity that I am glad I said yes to.
Abigail Watson is research nurse, Royal Brompton Hospital