Covid story 14

Denise Holmes

Senior Midwife at the Neonatal & Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Mater Dei Hospital, Malta.

I am a senior midwife at NPICU.  As a front liner in the pandemic my experience bore a lot of mixed feelings.  In March, the news of other countries that were hit so badly together with fast-paced changes in policy and the physical environment in the hospital was extremely worrying.  I was telling myself that our system was learning from the countries that were hit so badly, on the other hand, the common pensive moods always ended with the same thought: the worse was yet to come. The fear was ever-present, heavy, reaffirmed with every shift.  I needed to protect the fragile neonates and care for their parents whilst being really careful because going home, two members of my family of four are considered vulnerable.  This was very concerning.

Then there was the first Covid-19 positive baby on our unit.  We knew there had to be the first but it was still a shock.  We started swabbing everyone and the measures were stepped up.  A few days after, another baby developed symptoms and tested positive.  I was one of those who made contact so after a few hours after going home I got the call to isolate myself.  We had discussed this eventuality at home but when it hit home, we were panic-stricken.  I left home to quarantine for a fortnight.  No byes, no kisses, no hugs.  Worried, isolated, afraid, unable to explain to my kids. A fortnight of quarantine was an awful experience.  We would video call multiple times a day only to make me feel miserable afterwards.  Luckily I tested negative for Covid-19 after quarantine and my family was tested positive for resilience.

I was back at work.  So many things changed in two weeks and the distancing and safety measures adopted made caring and compassion feels like they were being omitted.  The one hour per day visiting restriction for parents was a fair deal in our eyes but even then, the parents were not being allowed to touch their young.  I worried about what it felt like not being able to bond with your firstborn.  Were the babies feeling alone, isolated?  Possibly.  I felt sorry for both parents and neonates.  Bereaving parents had it worse.  After the visiting restrictions, if their beloved baby passed away, they could not enter the unit.  This was very distressing for everyone.

I also vividly remember talking to a couple who’s child needed treatment abroad.  Usually, I’d feel useful, sure of myself, in the know, able to guide them through.  Now I felt the total opposite.  I couldn’t answer questions since policies were changing rapidly, the airport was said to be closing down soon.  Will the baby still be transferred?  Will they be allowed to accompany him?  Will they be allowed back if the airport was shut down?    Covid-19 was new, an unknown enemy challenging us to the core.  With other ailments, we could read until we knew it all.  To date, there is still very little material to refer to intensive neonatal care.  The feeling of unpreparedness before every shift is still real.  The long shifts wearing full PPEs make life harder for everyone and the heavy cloud of uncertainty is always looming over me.  After months of this, I’m getting more used to it although I’m not comfortable about it.  The fear?  I think that will need a lot of time to fade into irrelevance.