The Covid-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented time in our lives, and our healthcare services in particular have faced challenges beyond anything we could have imagined before the virus broke out.
Our Deputy Manager Angela is also a registered nurse and has spent over a year working on the Covid wards alongside her role at Ambiance Care. In this blog post, Angela gives us a nurse’s perspective on the pandemic and her expert insights into the situation now as it unfolds.
The beginning of my nursing career
“In September 2019, I qualified as a Registered Adult Nurse and began working on the surgical and gynae ward where I’d spent my last placement as a student nurse. I was fortunate that the team I worked with were so supportive and always willing to take time out to teach me.
This was a real blessing, especially considering that we worked on one of the biggest and busiest wards of the hospital, caring for patients with often severe illnesses in need of professional treatment.
Within three months of starting out in my role, the terms ‘Covid-19’ and ‘Coronavirus’ began to circulate, and the anxiety around the virus started to rise. We all felt it. Nobody could prevent the questions that were forming in everyone’s minds: “Will an outbreak happen in the UK? Will it become a big issue? Where would these patients be placed within the hospital? Who would care for them? What PPE would we be provided with?”
As the weeks ticked by and the number of positive cases began to rise in the UK, we started to see our first Covid patients trickle in. It became protocol that we had to wear PPE for the whole of our shifts, removing it only to eat. The number of staff allowed in rooms was reduced to two or three at a time, so speaking to the doctor or even just having lunch had to be timed well.
Patients who had a positive swab were sent to the ‘Covid ward’ regardless of any other existing medical conditions, which meant that the staff on the new Covid wards (which were previously orthopaedic) were now looking after people with wide range of medical conditions, on minimal staffing levels, dealing with a condition that we had only a rough idea how to diagnose and treat.
“By June 2020, our surgical ward was shut to create a new respiratory ward and high dependency unit, and we were all redeployed. I was sent to the acute cardiology unit and the rest of my team stayed within the surgical division.
The cardiology staff were also caring for the Covid positive CPAP patients who were situated in two of the theatres, with a third theatre given over to end-of-life patients, so they could be with their families.
As much as this solved the problem of not having these patients on wards (the treatment was aerosol generating, meaning it could spread Covid easily) it also meant that a nurse and a healthcare worker were left on their own, at the end of a maze of corridors, with minimal support.
If a patient was to crash, it took longer than usual for back up to arrive (further away from most wards and staff had to put a lot of PPE on) – and there were only two of us there in the first place.
Breaks were few and far between, with no staff to come and provide cover. It wasn’t unheard of for staff to use a commode in an empty room next to the theatre at times – we couldn’t just nip to the loo. All this, on top of working with extremely poorly patients who had an illness that we know so little about.
The second wave
“When the high dependency unit opened in October 2020, the CPAP patients from theatres were transferred: we now had an 8-bedded unit with three nurses and two healthcare staff all in one place – a huge relief. We also had the ITU to the right of us, and the new respiratory unit to the left, and we received formal training on the equipment, too.
However, this was the start of the second wave, and the patients became younger with less past medical history. I saw more deaths than I ever imagined I would. We had members of the same family in together. We had a patient watch her son get intubated and then sadly not make it, while she tried to recover herself in the next bed. If a patient was end of life, we helped relatives put the PPE on, and then helped them take it all off after they had lost their loved one and they were broken.
We lost a much-loved staff nurse – I can’t even describe the atmosphere and the great sense of loss of one of our own. We lost other staff, too, due to Covid, which they most probably caught from just going to work.
I would say 9 out of 10 of my colleagues contracted Covid at some point in 2020. It was by far the hardest period of my life. The support from the community seemed to have quietened down, and the people who all believed that Covid was not real started to come out. I assure you, it is very real. Most of my family had Covid at some point – my brother-in-law was in intensive care himself, thankfully now recovered.
I left my post on the high dependency unit in December 2020, but I still do at least one shift a week at the hospital. These past few weeks, there have been fewer patients on the Covid wards, which also means that the staff get a few well deserved quiet shifts. More patients are seeming to recover now, and if they need more intense treatment, are going over to ITU quicker. I do believe that lockdown and the vaccinations are making a huge positive difference.
The bigger picture
“Lockdown has had a massive effect on us all, one way or another. My daughter has missed a substantial amount of school. My parents have struggled massively with being socially isolated. My sister works for the ambulance service and they’ve also felt the strain of Covid. My friends who were self-employed have had to find new routes of income.
Despite this, it is people with dementia who have suffered the most throughout the Covid pandemic. The Alzheimer’s Society reports that 4 out 5 people with dementia have seen their symptoms worsen, with more than a quarter experiencing a loss in the ability to perform daily tasks, like cooking or dressing.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit people with dementia the hardest, both in terms of deaths from the virus itself, and from a huge increase in ‘unexplained’ non-virus-related deaths, totalling over 13,000 between March and June 2020. The knock-on effects of lockdown are interruptions and suspensions to health and social care services, upended routines, care home visitor restrictions and a prolonged period of social isolation for people with dementia.
Now that the vaccinations are rolling out with speed, I hope that the country will be able to safely open up again and that we can begin to enjoy the company of others, and provide better support for those who need it.
I encourage you all to have the vaccinations if you can. They are safe, they are rigorously tested and they will enable us to reconnect again. Finally, I am starting to see some hope – I hope you can, too.”