Covid story 20

Rhian Hughes, Clinical Education Lead, NICU, Birmingham Women’s Hospital, UK

My Split personalities of COVID-19 and 40 minutes.

During the last few months, my career as a Nurse has tested every final inch of patience and strength. Being a Nurse in a Neonatal Unit had always been challenging with the emotional roller-coaster that you follow and support new parents through. With the joy of new birth, life and unconditional love, comes anger, pain and the unanswerable questions.

As a Clinical Education Lead my role is to support, belt in and brace the NQN staff joining this rollercoaster.

On March 17th, during a Study day, each and every plan that I had made for structured support and education was cancelled. The Trust was now responding to a Major incident. I was immediately given a tasks and jobs that was my priority. I sat to discuss this frustrated and angry, with the group I was teaching and sent them home. I had to provide reassurance and comfort to those that were new to role but were now being asked so much more than any job description. Now, more than ever, my leadership skills and strength were tested. Whilst I have always retained a positive outlook and optimistic persona, it was difficult to retain this and support the team around me.

Staff who were redeployed from areas were ‘fish out of water’ and whilst every hand helped, people struggled to cope with the physical and mental demands of an Intensive Care unit, that they had never worked in before. Education had to go into over-drive to provide additional learning, new resources and whilst using new virtual learning platforms.

This was it- this is what I needed to do, if there was ever a time to show the strong leader that I am, it was now. All the training had done, the theory had some to this. Very quickly the expectations of me from my manager had risen sharply. The fire in me did not question, did not cry, but started to plan and rise to everything asked of me. 

Whilst my work is inbuilt and part of me. I am a mum and a wife. I have two children in First school who were both told that they may not return to school.

5 hours of schoolwork, per day, for 2 children, in two different year group, whilst working a 40-hour week. Summer holidays were usually difficult to navigate, but this was something different. The expectations I had to be a primary school teacher, whilst juggling the washing, cleaning, food shopping, guinea pigs, gardening and lunches and dinners. Food bills creeping up for £20 more per week! My husband, also in the care sector, also felt the stress of his workload and frequently worked a fourteen day straight. His workload often became my workload as he would relay all the issues he had dealt with during the day in an attempt to relax.

For my children, the emotional effects that this had on them has been profound. Whilst physically they have been safe and loved, they have become guarded. From opened armed to face masks and crossed arms. My daughter who skipped into school now cries hysterically into the late night worried about who will care for her the following day and how much she will miss us.

I particularly found this heart breaking. I can provide her with the reassurance her of the careful planning to ensure childcare, but when you can clearly see them distraught, exhausted and broken, the only reassurance she wants is my attention and me to staff off work. What can I say to her?

I worry what their future will be and how they will build relationships with friends, people and feel ready to breakdown these all apparent emotional walls.

40 minutes….40 minutes this is the time that I drive to and from work.

This is the only time where I am solely me. Me and my own thoughts, my own mind and my own worries. The recent few months have been draining and these 40 minutes are the slight moment that I have to try to rest from the different roles I have to play, but also allow myself to be worried to be scared. One of these initial worries was over buying food, what if there was nothing in the supermarkets. There and then I swore to listen to my Grandmother advice and get a full store cupboard of food! Whilst this seems a distant memory and things have moved forward at the time this was a real worry.

What if I caught COVID? What if I couldn’t be the Nurse/ Mum/ Wife they needed me to be? ‘What if’ was a familiar thought during these drives and it allowed me to explore the disorganised thoughts in my head. It was only though this that I was able to gain some kind of sense of this new world and what I could be in it.

This test of my emotional, physical and clinical nursing ability has tested me past my limits and though this journey, I have found, the limits that I perceived are just smoke. I can do this, and I can do it amazingly. I don’t know what the future holds and what a ‘normal’ life will be like, but I know whatever the challenge, whatever the ask, as a mum, Nurse or wife, this will not beat me.