When I was six, I had to have my tonsils removed. Since that day, I have always wanted to be a nurse. The sister who looked after me had such a kind face and manner, a crisp uniform with a hat and waist buckle belt. She made me feel like she cared, like I was worth her time and I looked up to her, I knew she was who I wanted to be.
Cut to February 2003, I’m starting my training to become an adult trained nurse. This wasn’t easy and it took me longer than I expected to get my Diploma, but when I finally achieved it, I was so proud. I had reached my life-long goal to date and was in for the long haul.
My first five years were spent in adult neuro intensive care. During this time, I cared for a pregnant lady with a brain injury, who went into preterm labour. After a c-section, the neonatal sister brought her new son down to visit whilst she was still sedated and on a ventilator. There was so much equipment on wheels – incubator, ventilator, pumps, you name it, it was there – but the sister was so calm, kind and baby oriented amidst the chaos. I did not know what was happening, but I was fascinated by this small baby nestling up to his mum’s chest to try to breast feed, mouth wide open. I asked the sister ‘any jobs going where you work?’.
After I finished my four nights with his Mum, I visited the NICU educator, enquiring about how to get a job. Low and behold a job became available a couple of weeks later and I jumped at the chance. Shortly after I left Neuro ICU to join NICU team.
Flash forward to March 2020. I have completed my special care module, QIS training, mentorship training, joined the transport service and became one of the first of 3 ENNPs at the University of Plymouth Hospital.
Then suddenly…COVID-19 starts to appear on the news. At first, I thought nothing of it, it’s just a bad case of flu. I’ve even had a strain of it before, and despite making my asthma flare up and landing me a short stint in hospital, I got over it and lived to tell the tale. Why should I be worried? I’m a nurse – I’ve been through worse.
Then the stories started to flood in. The risks to asthmatics were like nothing we’ve seen. I didn’t want to be a ‘vulnerable person’ but according to the news, GOV and risk assessments, that’s exactly what I am.
So now I am at home. Not working as nurse, transport or as an ENNP. Instead I am shielding to protect myself. This hits me hard, harder than I could possibly imagine, more than any the other issue I’ve have had to deal with. I’ve survived cancer, pregnancy loss, family loss, asthma. But COVID-19 knocks me down in a way I never expected. Since childhood, I have always helped, saved, cared for strangers and loved ones and now I can’t. I’ve got to do what lots of nurse’s struggle to do – care for myself, put myself first. I was not prepared for that.
Watching the news, reading about it online, hearing it all on the radio as I ‘worked from home’ made me feel guilty – guilty for not being able to help, guilty for not being part of the team (I was asked to return back to adult ITU to prepare and care for the potential patients that would arrive, but I couldn’t), guilty for not being there to support my co-workers, friends and family. The guilt was overwhelming and at week 6, I crumbled.
When I participated in the BAPM COVID-19 webinar, my emotions were running wild. I realised I needed support as all this was taking a toll on my mental health. I reached out to my line manager and the NICU Senior Sister, spoke to the mental health COVID-19 support team and I broke down – toxic guilt had taken over and I needed to open my eyes to the truth. The mental health team were amazing, set me back on track and made me see that I am still a nurse, will always be a nurse – as long as I look after myself. I had to let go of the guilt, I was not working but I was still saving lives and my own. I was not going to become a statistic; I wasn’t going to put the strain on the NHS and pressure on the ITU team and ONE day I will be able to return to my team back on NICU. I was honest with my manager and NICU sister, a small support group was created with our unit mental health support lead, allowing for others to speak up honestly and freely. The guilt it seems, was felt by us all and we were all adjusting to it differently. But together, we stayed safe, we stayed strong and we are still able to care, nurse and look after those who will need us when we come back.
So, I am at the start of week 15, completed many, many packages of e-learning, written some guidelines, attending meetings, REaSoN, completed Rotas, kept myself busy with tasks shared out by my colleagues who are still practicing. I have learned to forgive myself for not ‘nursing’, but I am still a nurse, now with more I.T and management skills then before and hopefully sometime soon, I can be back doing what I love the most.
COVID-19 might always be around, but so will nurses, ENNPs, ANNPs, doctors, physios, cleaners, cares, psychologists, occupational health, x-ray, managers, police, fire officers, the list goes on and on. For we are all part of one massive team, one massive family, always working together, saving lives and our own.