Who cares 3

A boiler-suited A&E nurse struggles to speak out

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I first spoke to this magazine back in March, when my colleagues and I were bracing ourselves for an uncertain future working on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, I have been working as a nurse on the coronavirus area in A&E at a hospital in the North West. We’re wearing boiler suits now because we have run out of surgical gowns. We probably look terrifying to the patients, so it’s really difficult if we have a confused patient or someone who is on end-of-life care, because the communication between us and the patients is really difficult because our voices are muffled and they can’t see our lips moving.

The number of patients we see varies from shift to shift. It’s been easing down a lot at the moment, but I think after VE Day we are going to see a mini spike because people were just behaving ridiculously. There was no social distancing. I witnessed loads of people in big groups on my way to work and it was really disheartening because we know some of them will end up coming in, or people they were in contact with will come in within the next two weeks.

I don’t know if people don’t understand or if they’re selfish, but I think the way the government has conveyed certain messages has not made it easy for people to know what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

I think we have managed to cope with this peak OK, but that was partly because patients weren’t coming in with other things. We managed to make the bed capacity, but there’s already been a big strain on doctors and nurses, and everybody who works there – not just physically, but mentally people are struggling. I’ve spoken to colleagues who say they’re not sleeping, I’ve been talking to porters who at the peak were taking so many bodies to the mortuary they have been left really struggling emotionally. You don’t always think of that, the wider impact, so even though it possibly wasn’t as busy as we were expecting it to be, the emotional drain has been massive.

We’ve had lots of donations of food, which has been really nice, but I feel guilty taking them sometimes. At the end of the day we are going to work and putting ourselves at risk but we are getting a regular wage and we are able to go and do our shopping and afford what we need, whereas lots of people at the moment can’t do their shopping and can’t afford what they need. Even though we’re putting ourselves at risk we’re not hit financially in the same way other people have been.

Testing is still hard to come by, even for NHS staff. We can only request to be tested if the symptoms are within the first three days. Some colleagues have just been ordering themselves tests online because it’s easier than getting a test through work.

I’m very worried about a second wave and I think it will probably be worse than the first if we’re not careful.

I’m also worried about how quiet A&E has been. I think lots of people will have been sat at home getting very poorly because they didn’t want to come to hospital – people have probably died at home who needn’t have. We’ve hardly seen anyone coming in with heart attacks, and people aren’t just going to stop having them. There will be chronically ill people who daren’t come into hospital because they are terrified of catching coronavirus but getting really sick at home. That is a real issue.

As told to Saskia Murphy

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