An Irish nurse openly reveals what it was like working in a hospital during the height of the pandemic.
During these trifling times we find ourselves distanced from society, worried for our loved ones, and terrified of our invisible enemy, that brings fears of a second wave.
Our frontline heroes: the medical staff are working what seem to be endless hours to bring us the best care we could ask for, easing our minds in midst of a worldwide panic.
It was never a secret that medical staff have tough jobs, but if you want to know just exactly what an average day entails, you’re about to find out. One hardworking Irish nurse, who decided to remain unnamed, kindly shared a day in her life with us, giving an insight into what it’s like to work and deal with COVID-19 in Ireland.
A typical day starts off at 6.40am. Preparing for work, Niamh* must wash her uniform at 60 degrees while packing a bag with what seems to be a whole season’s worth of clothes: scrubs, a spare uniform, and the clothes she will wear until the end of her shift when leaving the hospital doors. However, that’s not all, don’t forget the shower necessities. At a time when hygiene is of utmost importance, medical staff also pack a towel and their personal shower gels and shampoo.
When it comes to meals, the answer is simple, prepare in advance. In the morning, it’s a quick bite to eat, a packed lunch and a tucked away dinner. However, when the workload gets the better of her, it’s hard to keep on top of things. “On my day off yesterday, I was too tired to plan my meals for the next two days at work,” explains Niamh*.
The working day then begins at 07.30am. Patients are allocated to their respectful nurses who will care for them for up to 12 hours of that day. The struggle of social distancing is not only an issue for regular Irish citizens, but it is also a struggle for our nurses at work. There could be several people in one room at any time which makes social distancing a real challenge – “I am worried, anxious that I can pass it on to my colleagues. They may have elderly people in their home or a husband and children. It’s hard to concentrate on the job at hand when these things are going through your mind” says Niamh*.
The rest of the day progresses as one would expect, checking up on patients and delivering the best care they possibly can with new challenges. Some of the newfound challenges that came with Covid-19 is the use of PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment), which is very time consuming and not to mention difficult. With PPE gear, one must put them on quickly and efficiently in order to avoid touching the fabric for fear of the virus sticking to it. Hand washing is as important as ever, for medical staff especially – “I wash my hands before and after they are raw and sore”.
In current times, one of the hardest parts of a nurse’s job, according to Niamh* is trying to ease the minds of patients who are exposed to frightening information about an unknown disease. “I try to do my job behind a mask, no smile for them to see, the comforting one that makes them feel at ease.”
When interviewing Niamh*, not only does she come across as very caring and attentive, but also so passionate about her job, however, at a time when we must be cautious of physical interaction, Niamh finds it difficult to show love and comfort for people when your smile is covered by a mask and the warmth of your hand is covered by a rubber glove.
Considering it’s still only 10.00 am, there’s a lot to consider so early in the morning. When it’s time for lunch social distancing still applies. The tearoom only lets a couple of people in at a time meaning that a lot of the medical staff are left waiting for their turn. Social distancing also means that staff must eat lunch alone with the option of leaving hospital grounds, but only after they have followed correct procedure of changing clothes which have not been worn inside or around the hospital.
After lunch, it’s time to follow the same tedious process of putting on the PPE and following the same routine as earlier in the morning; checking on the patients and waiting for the service bell to ring. When the service bell rings it means that it is time to put on a gown and provide more nursing care which can include cleaning the patient, changing their bed or tidying their surroundings to eliminate the gathering of bacteria. Calling family members of patients is a common practice, letting the family know how their loved one is doing is very important in this time of panic and uncertainty. Niamh* notes that she might also perform tasks during this time of the day like delivering meals and water to the patients, as well as holding a conversation with them through a door window to ease their minds and reduce anxiety.
This could be one nurse’s day, but it’s different each day; one more mentally exhausting than the other.
One of the things this particular nurse misses is human contact – “I miss the patient contact. Being able to do my work without the use of a mask or the PPE. It’s important for people to see your facial expression in time of need!” A regular shift ends after 12.5 hours. Concluding the shift includes handing over patients to the night staff which follow the same procedures as the day staff. After a shift, a shower is a must, changing into clean clothes that had not previously been worn that day, sanitising hands for the billionth time and leaving the hospital.
It seems that now more than ever, the medical staff are receiving a lot of media attention and people are interested in what they do on a day to day basis, praising them for being heroes which can be quite intimidating – “I personally struggle with compliments and find this change very strange. I do not talk about work and now everyone wants to know. It’s a strange one!”
For Niamh*, her focus is doing her job right every time and helping the patients, “I must help with my every being! Always has been.” She does not stop to consider the fact that she herself might catch the disease, but is afraid of possibly spreading it.
“I don’t see my parents because I need to protect them. I don’t see my friends because I need to protect them and their families,” explains Niamh*. Nurses who do not live with family have to stay away from their loved ones which is very isolating “It’s lonely, its isolating, but I am slowly learning how to deal with it all. I miss all my people and the way work used to be and the wonderful people in my life who really care about me,” she added.
*Names were changed. All imagery used via Freepik.
Interview by STELLAR Intern, Anastasiya Sytnyk