Ciara, ICU Nurse, Dublin

The fear of the unknown, the constant sleepless nights about how we would cope. Watching the scenes from ICU’s in Italy with much greater than our ICU capacity brought to their knees was a constant threat. Since March 2020, I have carried around a knot in my stomach, feeling sick, dreading work some days,  but equally dreading leaving work. Fear of passing covid to my elderly parents. I contracted Covid myself and had to quarantine myself in Citywest. It was a worrying, lonely and stressful time. I was worried about my work colleagues, I felt guilty for being out sick. 

As a manager and an educator, the pressure I felt to put a brave face on everything, plan, prepare and mitigate but inside most days I felt worried and stressed. Did we train enough staff,were there enough resources available for them? Did we order enough equipment? Are we supporting them enough? I was in the middle of a postgraduate programme in a  CF role and I felt I abandoned my students.  Trying to do the best for our patients, hoping we wouldn’t have to ration care were constant thoughts and fears. I feel so bad for our patients and their loved ones due to visiting restrictions- I wonder if I would be so understanding and compassionate if I was in their situation.

It still amazes me 14 years later as an ICU nurse,the trust that families put in us as nurses. It’s a real privilege and something I never take for granted or forget. I feel sometimes there’s no reprieve from Covid, it’s all we talk about in work, it’s all we talk about outside of work. I think when the initial surge settled and we realized we had coped, it brought some pride and relief at our efforts. Never have I worked with such a dedicated and creative group of people. In time, hopefully we can reflect on the positives of our endeavours but it feels premature now when we are still in very worrying times. I’m proud to be an ICU nurse, I still want to be an ICU nurse but I do worry about the psychological impact on both myself and our nursing colleagues. I worry about burn out, compassion fatigue, PTSD. 

I think as a profession we are resilient but it sometimes feels like there’s no end in sight. We pick up the pieces for very little in return in terms of pay etc.The clap for carers whilst a nice idea did little to alleviate stress, worry or anxiety.  We are not angels,its not a vocation. We are highly skilled, clinical experts educated to very high standards in our fields. We need to invest in ICU care  in terms of capacity, structurally and the appropriate personnel.The hospital is a cauldron of emotions and personalities and its very hard to explain to someone outside of that environment what it was like.

I felt sometimes like I had no one to really talk to about my fears except my colleagues as I didn’t want to worry or panic my friends or family. Nurses need to talk more, share our stories, admit when we feel burned out or struggling but we need the appropriate channels and access to appropriate support systems in order to do this. I worry about the younger generation of nurses coming through and the impact on them. Has Covid destroyed a generation of new nurses when we need them the most?

Ciara 

ICU Nurse, Dublin

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