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  • "Toilet paper and ventilators" – preparing for the unknown

    Claire Cox
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    I am going to write a series of blogs about my situation: what I'm seeing, my thoughts and my fears on the coronavirus, personally and professionally. I am a critical care outreach nurse one day a week and for the rest of the time I work non-clinically for the charity Patient Safety Learning. 

    My personal situation will not be unlike many. I have worries just like you – money, job, health, kids, elderly relatives (my parents will kill me for saying that!), food…

    It is important to capture our stories, no matter who you are or what you do. The impact of the coronavirus is widespread. It is affecting our daily lives and our future.


    Difficult to know where to start with this blog. Like the rest of the world, I’m anxious.

    We don’t know what is happening, we have not experienced anything like this before.

    When COVID-19 first arrived in late February (it felt like it snuck up on us, but I’m not sure that is the case), there was talk about some people having to work from home. This really suited me as I could easily do this in my role at Patient Safety Learning and it would mean I would be around more for my two boys.

    My boys are 12 and 14. Trying to parent boys of this age I find challenging at present. They seem to need me more than ever. I try to be a good parent, but usually feel guilty about letting them on the Xbox too long, feeding them chips more than once a week or not always knowing where they are or who they are with, especially if I am at work. I have normal parenting worries of bringing up teenagers.

    They are still at school today. How long that will last, I don’t know. The school has already set up online work for them and checked we all have internet access. My parents have said they will look after them if this is the case, so I can still go to work. The boys are delighted this will be happening at some point and can’t really see the long-term implications. If the Xbox doesn’t go down like it did last night – they should be fine.

    My parents are not old – in their 60s. Dad has a bad chest so I don’t want him to be put at any risk of catching the virus. With me going in and out of the hospital, I will be like a super spreader. I have told them to stay indoors and I won’t see them for a few months. I call them three times a day to keep a check on them. I think they think I’m mad. I’m just worried.

    As a nurse, my financial situation is stable. Working for the NHS is amazing; paid sick leave up to 6 months, great holiday entitlement and the likelihood of being made redundant in a clinical role is slim. I appreciate this ‘bubble’ that I work in. Yes, I’m usually skint at the end of the month, but I know I can work extra if needed and I will be paid at the end of the month – without fail.

    My husband on the other hand is different. He is self-employed. He employs six people. He has already had to lay one person off at the end of last week. Today he is giving the warning shot that they are all at risk of losing their jobs by the end of April. He has bills and wages to pay, funds are due to run out at the end of the month. My husband said to me last night that he feels that he has failed. He hasn’t – this is not his fault or anyone else’s fault.

    This is unprecedented. The mental health of everyone is at high risk here. It is affecting everyone in different ways.

    The mental health charities and services will be in demand – they are also under-resourced and overstretched as it is.

    My clinical background is cardiology, intensive care and critical care outreach. My skills are needed in the hospital at present. I want to help where I can.

    But I need to be at home with the kids, I need to be supportive of my husband who is going through a turbulent and worrying time with his business, I also feel pressure to help out clinically.

    My colleagues are going to work. Staff who shouldn’t even be going into work; many I know who have just finished chemotherapy, are immunosuppressed and who have underlying health problems. 

    Healthcare workers are not immune, they are normal people too. 

    We had a discussion at home this weekend. I shall work extra shifts at the hospital. Luckily my boss at Patient Safety Learning is understanding and is in full support.

    If I am honest – I am very nervous to what I may witness in the coming weeks/months. 

    I have worked in difficult situations in the past. Working in a field giving aid to 30,000 migrants on the Greek/Macedonian border was what I thought hell was. I saw pain and suffering on a grand scale. However, this was relatively short lived and confined to certain groups of people. This is not.

    This is affecting everyone, no matter how much money you have, the colour of your skin, nationality or religion and there is nothing you can do about it.

    We do not have enough resources to care for the amount of people who will need it. Working on the intensive care unit, you are protected. You have your patients who have access to everything they need – doctors, nurses, drug and equipment. If we are to start rationing resources or restrict who will receive treatment and who doesn’t, it will make caring for patients on the wards unbearable.  

    I have been called in to work clinically on Thursday. Nurses have had to self-isolate for different reasons.  

    I have never felt scared to go to work before. I don’t think I am prepared to watch people die from this virus. 

    I shall blog an update later this week. 

    I would urge anyone to write their account on how they are feeling or what it is like to be you, whether you work in a care home, in theatres, in primary care or as a support worker, or even if you have been affected by the virus – your stories may help others and may help to inform future care and policy if this was to ever happen again.

    We all need to highlight what’s happening now that needs to be attended to. 

    Join the conversation in our Community area.

    About the Author

    I am a critical care outreach nurse and absolutely LOVE working clinically, but as time has gone on, and I am getting older, I find the shift pattern more tiring. I have been looking to focus my efforts into improving safety for patients and staff. I can still have close contact with patients and but can work for the greater good for the many, rather than just a few.

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