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Covid-19: A nurse looks back at a year on the frontline

A NURSE from Trillick who has been working on the frontline since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has called on members of the public to continue to remember ‘hands, face and space’ to reduce some of the pressure the NHS is currently experiencing.

Staff nurse, Andrea Li, who is based in Ward 8 (Covid Ward) at the South West Acute Hospital, has been nursing Covid positive patients since March 2020.

Reflecting on the last 11 months, she said, “Patients that come through our ward are often acutely unwell requiring the use of high flow oxygenated therapy. We use a variety of machines with these patients often alternating between two, Airvo and CPAP.

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For some of our patients, particularly those who are elderly or anxious, these machines can feel quite invasive and frightening almost. This can leave our jobs difficult and challenging at times, as we know these machines can give our patients the best chance of survival from this virus.

It is only through education and reassurance with our patients, often sitting holding their hands until they become accustomed to the devices that we can see them start to improve in their condition and hence some of that fear lift.”

Andrea said that a typical day on the Covid ward could see nurses dressed in full PPE for a number of hours before de-gowning for a short break and then beginning all over again.

Gone are the days when we can go into a patient’s room and have long conversations with them, really getting to know them. We are advised to minimise our contact as much as possible, to not be exposed longer than necessary in order to reduce our chance’s of contracting the virus.

This goes against every nursing instinct we have, where communication and compassion are part of our core values. As each nurse spends a little time with the patient, gains a little more insight into their history, personality, wishes we are able to piece together this information and develop that patients story throughout their stay with us,” the nurse said.

Andrea said the nurses were often the only people the patients saw, as visiting was only permitted in “exceptional” circumstances.

She said, “Luckily for some their stay in hospital may be quite short, for others it can be a matter of weeks and we feel like these patients become part of our own family. We feel their pain when they feel it. We join in their joy when their treatment has worked and we grieve for those who don’t make it.

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We take comfort in the fact that we can be there when family members can’t, to provide a dignified, peaceful end to life ensuring no one is alone. Every one of our patients has made a lasting impact in our minds and this is something that may only begin to creep to the surface many months down the line, however for now, knowing you have a fantastic multi disciplinary team supporting each other every day is vital.”

She added, “With the roll out if the vaccine we hope to see a return to the nursing that we know very soon. In the meantime, however, we really need the support of everyone to continue to remember Hands, Face and Space and help reduce some of the pressure our NHS is currently experiencing.”

For more interviews with health workers on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic, see this week’s Ulster Herald.

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