• 27 March 2020
  • 6 min read

How Covid-19 is changing my life as an ICU nurse in a London hospital

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister
  • 0
  • 2898

An ICU nurse working in intensive care across two busy London hospitals reflects on the scale of impact that the Coronavirus pandemic has had on her working and personal life.

"I'm aware of the generosity being shown towards nurses and doctors. From shops letting us in early, to free cups of coffee, to streets making a noise to show us they appreciate our efforts!"

How the Coronavirus outbreak has changed my working world

I work between two busy London hospitals as an ICU nurse.

My daily commutes this week have been… different.

The train journeys have been unusually quiet and they are tense.

I also admit to feeling a creeping dread working down my spine while on my way to work recently.

In the last few weeks my job and my life have been turned upside down by Covid-19.

I have packed a bag of spare clothes and toiletries to leave at each hospital just in case we reach a situation where I have to stay at work for multiple days at a time.

It’s something I am preparing for in a worst case scenario.

In ICU units dealing with Covid-19 patients protective clothing has been steeply increased. This is an absolutely essential measure to limit the spread of infection and keep our medical staff as safe as possible. I understand this better than most.

Three layers of protective coveralls and gloves need to be donned on entry and removed on exit.

So far it is adding roughly an hour to my already long days.

Normally that hour would be spent food shopping or walking the dog with my girls or if I’m really lucky, twenty minutes to just sit quietly and be.

I understand the sacrifice I have to make.

But explaining it to my two little girls isn’t so easy.

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I would love to say we are ready and prepared for the worst Covid-19 can throw at us but that wouldn't be altogether true.

The bleak truth is we are not ready and won’t ever be.

We will do the best we can but that’s all we can do. You can’t prepare for an outbreak of a new virus like Covid-19.

You can’t fight a virus without first understanding that virus. That unfortunately takes time and resources to achieve.

An unimaginable challenge is in front of us

The UK's ICUs are in critical condition at the moment.

We need to give them and the people in them the care they need and deserve in these hardest of times.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the coming weeks and months.

Uncertainty is the mother of worry and we are living in very uncertain times.

Although, there is something I can be sure of: I look around at my masked colleagues working as hard as they can under the worst conditions and I know we will get through this.

I love being a nurse, I always have. It’s a part of me and a part of my life. Over the years I’ve seen and dealt with things most people wouldn’t want to imagine.

I’ve witnessed depths of heartbreaking tragedy.

But I never imagined facing a challenge like the one we’re dealing with in ICUs up and down the country right now.

If this is a “war time government” then the ICUs of the United Kingdom are the front line of that war and we are fighting a fierce battle right now.

I worry that I will spread the virus outside of ICU

I can’t deny that I’m worried about every intensive care unit in the UK.

But I worry even more about spreading infection.

The thought of taking it home to my children and walking the virus everywhere I go concerns me.

When I’m sitting on the tube I’m thinking: “I’m infecting everybody in this carriage”.

I feel like I need to rush around the supermarket, just in case some tiny spot of me is contaminated.

These thoughts can wake me up at night in a cold sweat.

I just worry.

What if taking my ID badge off will be enough to infect someone?

We take all the measures we can and just hope they are working the way we want them too.

The worry is constant; around the clock.

From the minute I wake up to those last few moments before exhaustion triumphs over the day.

It’s not a healthy way to live and can only be maintained for so long.

The stress bleeds out into everyday aspects of life, inescapable and all consuming.

I cry some of it out.

There are huge positives and the generosity of human spirit is evident

I'm aware of the generosity being shown towards nurses and doctors. From shops letting us in early, to free cups of coffee, to streets making a noise to show us they appreciate our efforts!

I find something to lift my spirits in the most unlikely of places.

I was walking around a ransacked supermarket yesterday in a fruitless search for bacon.

I stood looking at the practically empty aisle and my heart sank.

A long night shift and not even a bacon butty to go home to.

I lingered in the aisle feeling sorry for myself.

A young mother with a little girl roughly the age of my youngest rounded the corner onto the aisle. She explained to her little girl that due to Covid-19 they would have to be making some changes food wise.

She took down a package of grisly pig trotters, the only meat left on the aisle, and asked her little girl how she would like a trotter for tea.

The little girl’s face screwed up with revolution and disbelief.

The mum tossed back the trotters, whisked her little girl into her arms and the pair disappeared around the corner.

I found myself smiling and it felt good.

I made a mental note to try the same with my own girls during the next family trip to the supermarket.

It will take time, hard work, sacrifice and we will see great tragedy and hardship but we will endure.

We, the hard working nurses and doctors, paramedics and orderlies, pharmacists and clerical staff.

Every NHS worker will do their share to get us through this.

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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