• 08 April 2020
  • 6 min read

An ICU nurse explains her Covid-19 experience so far

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister
  • 0
  • 4218
"That’s the stark reality of the situation we face, we are doing everything we can to save these people's lives right now."

ICU Deputy Charge Nurse, Suzanne Armstrong, outlines the challenges faced by ICUs and how the units are adapting to combat the current Covid-19 Pandemic.

Topics covered in this article

Introduction

Covid-19 has not changed the level of care required

Everyone is vulnerable to Covid-19

We are pulling in everything we can from everywhere we can

I have never been as proud of my work family as I have been over these past weeks

Introduction

Life in an ICU can be tough.

We deal with life and death minute to minute.

It’s a high energy and emotionally taxing environment at the best of times.

Strong bonds are formed, we are a family, brothers and sisters working together towards a shared goal.

Like a family, in hard times we rally around our own, we do the best we can.

Right now every ICU in the country is doing just that.

So far in the ICU’s I work in patient capacity has doubled.

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Two beds and support equipment have been set up in, what weeks ago was, a single bed space.

Covid-19 has not changed the level of care required

As a nurse, the feelings of responsibility to these patients and the level of care required has not changed, that is still the same and as important as ever.

Meeting those needs has become harder but is still our mission every day.

We are delivering the same great care we always have, just a lot more of it per day.

One thing I am realising through all this is the exceptional level of care we are used to giving our patients and it is inspiring to see everyone rising to meet that high standard of care even under the hardest of circumstances.

I hope people know the sacrifice and hard work we put in everyday, we don’t always get the credit we deserve.

Bed sores can often be accused of being a sign of poor nursing, in certain cases this is correct but not in all.

I would bet my pin that a number of patients will come out of ICU’s in coming weeks with bed sores on their faces.

These will not be signs of poor nursing care or an overstretched NHS but the inevitable result of a patient being face down and prone under sedation in a very serious fight to save their lungs and life.

That’s the stark reality of the situation we face, we are doing everything we can to save these people's lives right now.

Everyone is vulnerable to Covid-19

Everyone is vulnerable to Covid-19 and if you suffer a bad infection, you will end up in an ICU and we will be fighting to save your lungs.

The ICU’s aren’t just full of elderly or high risk patients, every age range possible is here and very very sick.

I would beg everyone, no matter how nice the weather gets, stay at home and stay healthy.

Isolation may be tough but I can assure you sedation and ventilation is something you should hope to avoid at all costs.

I deal with and see it so much I have become desensitised to it but it is no laughing matter.

Relatives often break down in tears just seeing a loved one on life support.

It is not a pleasant experience for anyone involved.

You may need to make some sacrifices along the way but do everything you can to never need my care, for your sake and mine.

We are pulling in everything we can from everywhere we can

Operating theatres have been shut and stripped bare of equipment and resources for use in our ICU’s.

We are pulling in everything we can from everywhere we can.

There has been a fantastic surge of relief staff, theatre nurses, recovery nurses, retired nurses, coming to temporarily join our family.

We need all the help we can get.

We are taking these people under our wing, going through super numeracy, bringing them up to date, adjusting them to life in the ICU.

It’s not easy and you can see the fear in some of their eyes, I just hope they can’t see the same fear in my eyes looking back at them.

It’s there, it’s in all of us.

We are all scared, this is the biggest professional challenge we will likely ever face.

The increase in patients also means an increase in equipment.

The nature of the Covid-19 virus necessitates a need for ventilation during treatment / recovery.

So every extra bed has an extra ventilation unit and monitor, as well as other vital equipment.

All this extra equipment, personnel and patients generate heat.

Working under pressure in this environment while being wrapped head to toe in plastic is a very real challenge.

Personally I have seen no signs of any shortage of PPE supplies.

Yes, we are flying through them at an incredibly fast rate, but we have large stockpiles and we are taking any spares from every corner of the hospitals.

I doubt we will ever run out but I can’t deny a few nervous looks as the last one gets pulled from the current box.

They disappear as soon as another full box arrives.

Yesterday I had to change my scrubs three times during my shift, each time soaked through with sweat.

On my essential shopping list this week is sports bras, they will dry quicker! During shift I can feel the sweat running down my face, see it beading on the inside of my visor.

“Boiled in the bag” doesn’t even come close.

I have never been as proud of my work family as I have been over these past weeks

Everyone is working so hard, under huge pressure, with horrible restrictions while weighed down with extra worry and stress.

But everyone of my sisters and brothers is rising to each day's challenges, meeting those standards of care for our patients and still supporting and loving each other every step of the way.

It makes my heart swell with pride and spreads a smile across my face.

And It’s not just my immediate NHS family, it’s all of us up and down the country, every ICU is seeing these changes or preparing for them.

I know there will be hundreds if not thousands of my work brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews that are rallying right now and facing this challenge head on.

It makes me so proud I have to hold back the tears.

We will get through this one day at a time, supporting each other and working together.

After all, that's what families do.

About the author

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister

I am a lifelong nurse with a real passion for care. I started my career in a busy seaside A&E department and am now an intensive care deputy sister at a large city hospital. My work is and always has been a big part of my life, I fill the rest with my fantastic family, loving husband James, two beautiful little girls and cheeky cockapoo called Charlie.

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  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister

About the author

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister

I am a lifelong nurse with a real passion for care. I started my career in a busy seaside A&E department and am now an intensive care deputy sister at a large city hospital. My work is and always has been a big part of my life, I fill the rest with my fantastic family, loving husband James, two beautiful little girls and cheeky cockapoo called Charlie.

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