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  • COVID-19: what are you wearing? Working in a soup of droplets

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    Summary

    Blog series from Claire, a critical care outreach nurse, reflecting her experiences, thoughts and fears during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Content

    As a working parent, life has always been a juggling act… during this crisis I’m dropping a few balls and I feel totally out of control.

    I have always been an organised person. When I say organised, I mean that the kids get to school, I get to work, dinner is cooked, clothes are fresh, the house is clean, and we have time for fun.

    The last few days our worlds have turned upside down. The kids don’t go to school, my work is not what I know anymore and I’m too scared to go, dinners are not the usual (we had spam fritters and tinned potatoes last night), clothes are boiled washed, the house stinks of bleach and we can't go out.  

    We shall get used to this new normal, I know that we all need to find a routine that will comfort us, even if that is making up new house rules or putting up a timetable for the kids (that went in the bin after 48 hours).

    I’m getting used to being a bit of a crap mother at the moment. I’m getting a bit shouty, more than usual and I don’t like it. We are eating weird stuff I have found in the back of the freezer as I am limiting the amount of time I go out; I don’t recommend a frankfurter curry… bit salty.  

    I'm trying to home-school the kids as the school will only take the boys when I’m at the hospital – this is to make sure everyone can get to work. If anything, this is what is going to send me over the edge first! The boys are fighting, they refuse to do the work set by the school, I try and help but I can’t understand it, they ask for snacks constantly, they want to go out with friends and, what with everyone online, the internet is slow. 

    It’s been 48 hours of lockdown and I think I shall have an 'inset' day tomorrow.  

    I know in my last blog I spoke of my husband and his business going a bit t***s up, it’s the least of the worries at the moment. The government has set out lots of support for him and his employees. He will be ok, his employees will be ok, we will be ok. This was a huge part of the stress we were under last week, but things have changed.

    I have been doing extra shifts at the hospital to cover sickness. Many of our outreach team are in self-isolation due to family members being unwell or they are unwell. During these shifts I have witnessed the very best of our NHS and the Trust I work in, so why am I dreading my next shift?

    Fear.

    Never have I felt that my life is at risk during my 24-year nursing career. I have worked all over the world. Working in a refugee camp, being the only blonde, white woman, you would have thought I would feel scared or threatened. No, I was welcomed and respected. I have been driven at high speed in taxi in South Africa, racing away from armed car jackers when I was a repatriation nurse (admittedly this was a brown trouser moment), but it was one isolated incident. Being fearful of a job I love is so upsetting.

    The medical admission unit is filling up with ‘red’ patients (COVID positive) and the ITU is starting to see its first patients. As an outreach nurse we are seeing the sick patients. They cough all over me. I have no idea if they have the virus or not. I am not wearing scrubs; I wear my outreach uniform which I launder at home, but I do have access to surgical masks, aprons and gloves.

    A sick patient who is positive needs to go to the ITU. It’s my job to transfer them. I turn up with the ward nurse in an apron, gloves and surgical mask. They are wearing powerhoods or the N95 masks, scrubs, full plastic covering from head to foot, they have access to a shower after work and they have support from intensive care doctors. I feel totally underdressed and ill equipped.  

    The nurses on the ward have been caring for this patient while wearing a surgical mask, apron and gloves. This patient was not receiving aerosoled treatment and the personal protective equipment (PPE) guidance is being followed, but I can’t help thinking that the wards are getting a raw deal.

    They are working in a 'soup of droplets'. I caught a glimpse of one of the cleaning staff changing the curtains of the COVID positive patient who had left the ward to go to the ITU. He also had just a surgical mask and his normal uniform. I felt sad. I can’t help thinking that this isn’t right. I don’t think we have the right protective equipment. Surely, we should not be wearing and laundering our own uniforms? We get told by our management, who get guidance from the Public Health England, so should we just accept it? If it feels wrong, it usually is wrong. Would they come and work a shift here in their clothes and be happy washing it at home? Probably not.

    There are not any showers for nurses at work. We bring this virus in to our homes on our uniforms, risking our children, our family and friends, not to mention ourselves. I feel filthy. I rush upstairs to shower while the uniform is boiling in the washing machine.

    Scrubs are at a premium. There are not enough to go around.

    I am upset over many things; I feel I can't do anything properly and feel useless. Everything we have ever known is different.

    I would like to end this blog on a high note… The sun is shining, just in time for lockdown.

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    Amazing blog...is everyone really being expected to bring their uniforms back to their family homes to wash? As a patient, I am so angry that our NHS heroes are feeling frightened unprotected and that they are failing in multiple areas of life, when they are actually holding everything together for the country. 

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    ‘There are not any showers for nurses at work.’ Outrageous. We have to care for staff. No staff safety, no patient safety 

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    Another blog by Claire where she bares her deepest feelings about life at home and at the frontline of this pandemic.Truly heartbreaking!
    Compared to my last private hospital, where the scrubs were colour coded for intensive care,radiology, endoscopy and theatres- more than enough to go around and a further supply if necessary as well as availability of  disposable scrubs if required for droplet infections.
    In some hospitals, we cannot wear a reusable cap, because we are not allowed to launder it at home!
    Why then, are NHS nurses allowed to risk their family safety and take their uniforms home to launder in a pandemic.
    Just like we have disposable PPE for a pandemic, we can ask the government to provide disposable scrub suits to the hospital staff and tonight I will do a petition to make this a reality.
     We are always fighting and speaking up for patient safety, so too we must fight and speak up  for the health and  safety of all healthcare staff in the NHS.
     

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    Well said Kathy. Some of this is resourcing but much of this is prioritisation that doesn’t put patient and staff safety as a core purpose. Lessons must be learned

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