Tag Archives: nursing

Anxiety About Having It

Since being with Albert as he died, I’ve become more and more anxious thinking I might either have coronavirus or will get it soon. I didn’t know I was going to be sitting in a small room with a man dying of Covid before it actually happened. I’ve never done anything like that before in my life. It was a sudden event that happened without warning. I was given a blue paper mask, gloves, and an apron and told to go inside and sit with him quietly, maybe hold his hand, and keep him calm.

LUCKILY, so luckily, I’d had a conversation with my ex-husband, Paul, the day before, who’d asked about the PPE I would be wearing at hospital for my volunteering, and when I told him about the mask and gloves he said, “what about your eyes? You need protection for your eyes too.” I hadn’t thought of that, and it was a good point.

So just as I was about to go in and sit with Albert I said, “what about a visor, can I have one of those?” The nurse looked surprised and turned her head from side to side as if she’d no idea where any might be and why anyone would ask for such a thing, but I’d seen a small supply of them on a nearby trolley so was able to point them out. I strapped it on and went in.

Inside, Albert was moaning and lying in bed on a CPAP machine, which I subsequently discovered is an aerosol generating procedure (AGP), for which I should really have been wearing a FFP3 mask. But no-one was wearing that type, we were all using just the blue paper masks, even the nurse who hugged his body to her chest as we struggled to change the sheets on his bed.

I feel let down that I, as a volunteer, didn’t have it explained to me that I should be using a better mask than the normal paper ones, and that I wasn’t provided with one, or told to get one. I was just shoved in the room with my standard non-aerosol preventing paper mask. The same as everyone else.

I spent 50 minutes sitting a metre away from Albert, close enough to be able to hold his hand or stroke his leg. There was a window open behind the blinds so the room was aired, but you can’t see those tiny little aerosols – they’re so miniscule hundreds of them can fit on a human hair! And the gusts of storm Christophe were swirling in through the window, round the room, up into my nose and lungs, and back out through the window. I worry I breathed in many Covid aerosols through my paper mask that day. So now I’m just sitting here, hour after hour, waiting for symptoms to emerge.

My anxiety is getting the better of me. I’m imagining I have a sore throat or feeling breathless. I did this last year in April, and then the symptoms actually did turn out to be Covid. I don’t want that to happen again now, but there’s really nothing I can do about it. I was exposed to potentially huge amounts of aerosols of Covid-19 three days ago, and I can’t take that event back. All the nurses had no better protection and that is their daily job. Have they all been vaccinated and feel confident? Have they all had the virus and are now immune? Or are they just too busy, too caught up in their job rushing from one thing to another to worry about what kind of mask they’re wearing? Or are they not provided with any? I think this last is the most likely reason, and if so, that’s really not good enough.

My plan for me is to continue living my life, keep away from people, wear my mask, wash my hands, stay out of contact with everyone until next Friday, when I will take a Covid test. By then it will have been ten days since the exposure and if I’m going to get it, surely that will have been enough time for sufficient viral load to amass in the back of my nose and throat to show up in a test? I really don’t want a false negative test result.

If, when (yes, I must think when) I get a negative result back from that test I will give myself a reward, out of pure relief. Perhaps I should spend the next seven days deciding exactly what that should be.

In the meanwhile, just to comfort myself, I bought a pulse oximeter from Amazon (to arrive tomorrow) so I can monitor my blood oxygen levels. This evening Jack said he had a sore throat and I think I also have one. But lets hope it’s either a normal cold coming on or our imaginations.

Please God!

Witnessing The Struggle

This post is for ALBERT.

Albert is an elderly, frail black man with dementia, lying in a hospital room by himself, struggling for every breath, coughing up thick phlegm, unable to communicate, suffering so much and dying of Covid. He is in his last few hours or days (if he’s unlucky). He can’t speak. He’s half out of his mind and quite terrified.

He is there now, still in that dreary room with all the blinds closed, with nothing to see or do except fight the internal fight caused by his lungs being almost totally filled up with gunge and his organs slowly failing.

I sit here and type at my desk, writing this blog as a catharsis, as a way to get Albert some witness to his suffering.

This was my first shift as a Covid volunteer. I have no medical training but when I found out that my local hospital was close to being overwhelmed and was extremely short-staffed, I thought I should offer my services. I myself wouldn’t want to go into hospital and there be no staff to look after me. At least a volunteer is better than no-one. At least, if nothing else, I can sit and give comfort.

I think I did that today. As Albert grunted and coughed and wheezed, I held his hand and stroked his leg and talked from time to time about ordinary every-day things. I told him there was a storm coming and the wind was strong and we’d had rain over night. I described the view outside the window that he couldn’t see. I told him what people were doing right now – preparing lunch, boiling rice, cooking sauce, washing up, walking to the corner shop to get the newspaper, taking their dogs for walks. But about half the time we sat in silence too. I didn’t want to continuously chatter. He continuously groaned though.

Once I held his hand, but he gently pulled it away out of my grasp. He didn’t want that. Another time he held out his other arm towards me, moaning a bit. He didn’t form any words so I wasn’t sure if he was trying to tell me anything specific. I noticed that a bit of the sticky tape on the back of his hand where the cannula was had come unstuck, but I didn’t know whether that was something to mention to a nurse or not. Although if I had wanted to mention it there was no-one within reach. Outside this little room everyone was busy. Nursing staff were gathered from all over the hospital and not in their usual stations. People didn’t know where gauze was, or where the visors were kept.

Albert felt cold to my touch, very cold. I told him this, and searched around the room for an extra blanket and heaped it on top of him.

After 45 minutes a phlebotomist came in to take some bloods and noticed the cannula wasn’t in the back of Albert’s hand, and that, in fact, the IV fluids had been discharging onto the bed and he was lying in a pool of cold, wet sheets. How hadn’t I noticed?! I was horrified! Was that what he had been trying to communicate when he was reaching out his hand a couple of times? I have no idea. I put my head outside the door and asked for a nurse to come and help. She was busy typing on a mobile phone and said she couldn’t do two things at once, but she would come soon. I understood.

I felt so sorry for Albert, who was now lying without covers in the freezing cold. The window was open of course. Ventilation is extremely important, I was grateful for that. But it is winter, and if you’re lying in water in a thin hospital gown it must have felt bitterly cold.

It wasn’t long before the nurse and I were rolling Albert over, yanking the wet sheets out from under him, and tucking a dry one in place. A fresh sheet and blanket were put back over him, but privately I didn’t think that would be anywhere near enough to keep him warm. He was skeletally thin and could have done with a duvet, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Not long after that, with Albert all the time moaning and struggling for breath, I doffed my PPE (visor, mask, gloves, and thin plastic apron) into the appropriate bin, and washed my hands in the sink up to my elbows. Outside, nurses were hurrying to and fro, busy, so busy, tasks piled high. I walked round the corner and stood in the corridor against the wall watching the commotion, thinking of Albert, now completely alone, fighting his last fight, probably still freezing cold.

No-one paid me any attention. No-one had any time. I didn’t know where the task force leader was, or who was the most senior nurse to ask what I should do next; but honestly, I didn’t want to do anything else next. It was a baptism of fire and I felt a little overwhelmed. Soon I went to the staff room, collected my things, and headed off to the redeployment hub to tell them I was going home. We had a quick debrief, which I found helpful. They were very sympathetic – for everything, for the whole situation, for me, for Albert.

I went home, had a shower, and made up my mind to hug my children closer than usual this evening. Covid is cruel to the elderly. I hated seeing this man’s suffering. Apparently he has great grandchildren. But he has to lie and die alone. Relatives aren’t allowed in the ward. It’s heartbreaking..

I’ll think of Albert for a long time. My next shift is tomorrow, and if I get sent back into the Covid black ward I’ll ask after him, see if I can sit with him again. I’ll let you know.

People: Wear your masks. Keep your distance. Help prevent people like Albert from suffering and dying.