Joana Mendes, São Francisco Xavier Hospital, Lisbon, Portugal
I am a NICU nurse since I left nursing school. It was my big and only passion. I work now for about 18 years with babies and families. My main areas of expertise are ethics and palliative care. When Covid-19 was spreading quickly in Europe, I was doing a pediatric palliative care clinical practice in Cardiff. One of the first challenges, was returned home safely, when boarders where closing, all over the world. I got to Portugal 2 days just before the lockdown. The news, papers and social posts on internet, arriving from China, Italy and Spain, were really scary. Portuguese boards (medical, nursing and even veterinary’s) asked for health care professionals, from all backgrounds and scenarios, to come and help in human medicine, especially in adult emergency department and intensive care, if needed. They even asked the retired ones to volunteer. And they came. Neonatal nurses knew in advance, one could be mobilized anywhere, anytime. If the situation turned really bad, some would have to go and work in adult department. It sounded very unreal. Some of us when to the pediatric emergency department, when a lot of nurses were home due to quarantine needs. How would we help in adults? The second challenge faced, was the decision to left my sons (2- and 7-years old) with my husband and fathers in law. I felt heartbroken with all the uncertainty. I experienced strong and mixed feelings. Like never before, I listened the silence shouting and felt time passing in a very painful slow-motion way. In the hospital I work, one building was converted in a Covid-19 area. The other, the maternity, neonatal and pediatric building, was considered the non-Covid-19. NICU would admit babies that where born from mothers that tested positive or babies, during neonatal period, suspected to be or tested positive. Since, labor and delivery unit started testing all women, some, with no symptoms or risk factors, tested positive. Evidence was lacking, but the risk of vertical transmission seemed to be low (hopefully).
Neonatal health care team were daily, adapting, adjusting and reframing institutional guidelines. Would using CPAP would increase the risk for professionals’ transmission as suggested in adult literature? Was it possible to do the test properly to smaller babies, if the swab used is the same size in adults and newborns? Planning was very dynamic and all we were learning from one another, around the globe.
When the time came, NICU nurses, that had previous working experience in adult ICU and had with no risk factors for Covid-19, went to work full time there. NICU also admitted a nurse from ICU that had a chronic condition. The others non-risk nurses, like me, would be the first to take care of Covid-19 babies. First admissions came in Easter time. NICU nurses were committed to promote mother-baby bonding, holding concept and family centered care. Even before the first baby was born, were all brainstorming. A mobile phone or a tablet was identified as a good option to send video, photo or promote face time with the mother, if possible. Nurses phone called mother’s, each shift, to update about baby’s situation, lactation advices and other areas of counselling and promote emotional support.
Full protection equipment use was hard. No possibility to eat, drink or use toilets to optimize the deficiency in the number of equipment’s available. Even for a couple of hours, makes you feel hot, dehydrated, sometimes dizzy, with fogged glasses and with a sort of shortness of breath. After you remove it bruises and pressure zones in your face can remains for hours or days. All babies that were born during this pandemic time, not only Covid-19, suffered touch and human face interaction deprivation. Parents stayed in the NICU for short periods of time, because they were afraid. Professional were all wearing masks and gloves. The
noxious sensory hyper stimulation seemed to gain preponderance to Kangaroo care, holding or breastfeeding. Difficult balance: health safety or human healthy development? What will be the consequences of this new crazy reality for next generation? What lessons do we have to learn, in order to elevate the quality of nursing care in the near future? This would be, the huge, third challenge. It was really inspired to feel that neonatal and pediatric palliative care were supporting one another in the globe. I felt we were really as one, sharing emotions and difficulties and being inspired to move forward.