Then came New Year’s Eve, a day I will never forget…

Submitted by Natalie
Practice Educator/Senior Sister ITU, SRH

I will never forget how it felt donning for the first time. My hands shaking and the tension in the air palpable as I pulled down my visor and took a deep breath and pushed the ITU doors open.

That deep breath never went away as we worked tirelessly, learning the inner workings of Covid and how it grips our patients.

Eventually, as summer came to us, we moved out of the first wave: with many success stories – claps out of hospital, teamwork prevailing, Thursday night clapping as a nation celebrated the NHS. And into the second wave – our small unit and the hospital unaware of the impact this devastating period would have on all of us.

We watched it creep insidiously towards us with bated breath, seeing colleagues in Network Critical Care units slowly becoming overwhelmed. This time forewarned and we thought forearmed!

The nation prepared for a third lockdown, Christmas with loved ones no longer allowed and an overwhelmingly eerie silence as equipment was scurried together, escalation units prepared, Covid skills and preparation training rolled out and our team tried to mentally prepare and keep spirits high.

Then came New Year’s Eve, a day I will never forget. We had begun to admit patients from other hospitals to decompress their units at breaking point a couple of days before. However our flood gates had opened, admission after admission came from this point on of patients so desperately critically unwell.

I had to close my eyes for a split second – to gather my thoughts amongst the overwhelming noise of alarms, ventilators, monitoring and my phenomenal team scurrying together despite incredible fear to save lives.

That noise stayed with me – reverberating in my ears on many a tearful drive home or as I tried to switch off at night. As my eyes pinged open again, I had to work out which colleague to assist to treat the ever occurring rapid deterioration of a Covid patient, which member of staff to delegate to or how best to assign our staff to accommodate another admission.

This was the way we had all become accustomed to practicing whilst under the extreme pressures of the pandemic. The whole team divided into Red and Green teams but using a wealth of knowledge to come together despite all of the anxiety and uncertainty, to take care of each other, catch each other during the hard times and do our absolute best for our patients.

Green teams moving whole ITU’s numerous times and operating with limited resources. Red teams with 2-4 ventilated patients with each prone, turn or intervention causing instability in a patient that I have never seen in my ten year ITU career.

But all anxious about each other. Red teams upset at not being able to support Green teams and Green teams anxious for Red teams. A trait which makes our team a family.

Despite this our ITU family – now expanded by our highly skilled Covid support team, incredible redeployed staff (many who had supported us for the entire pandemic!) Paediatric teams, Outreach, Anaesthetic, MFU and Surgeons & Surgical care practitioners and Specialist staff, domestics, porters (so many to mention – but we are so grateful to each and every one of you!) all stepping bravely and completely out of their comfort zones, uncomplaining, scared but rallying around us to help.

Whether it be with prones, holistic care, preparation of the numerous drug infusions, stocking, moving and cleaning beds or with well wishes, words of support or PPE hugs as hot tears ran down our masked faces. The support was and is simply overwhelming.

I think I can speak for each and every one of my colleagues and say we felt every loss – painfully so, as we supported patients, their loved ones and each other through multiple bereavements.

Our own mortality flashing before us, this wave feeling so incredibly close to home, but making every success feel all the more pertinent as patients began repatriating to their hospitals or being discharged to our incredible wards.

And in amongst the incredible sadness and relentless work, came the solidarity: singing songs on the radio in full PPE, the laughs despite the overwhelming pressure and heartache, drawings on PPE name stickers, hats made to celebrate birthdays, Consultants and Drs relieving staff for breaks, shift swaps, overtime or bank shifts despite exhaustion or a simple “Are you ok”.

Alongside the donations of lovingly made cakes, food hampers, pamper packs, cream for sore broken noses and the incredible Jacaranda to fill our stomachs with delicious food and hydrate us with water!

Each meal becoming the only comfort whilst sitting with colleagues. Staff debriefs and support sessions, texts out of work and little motivational gifts to bring a smile. Each and every one of us looking out for each other and our support teams and going above and beyond to help each other get through each shift and to the point we are today.

Critical care has always been my home and my passion since I joined 10 years ago and I’ve always been so proud to be part of this incredible team.

There have been many lows and countless tears but I am in complete and utter awe at the bravery, kindness and resilience that even they don’t know they have. There is absolutely no one that I would rather have weathered this storm with and we will continue to do it the only way we know how – together.

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