A nurse looking after patients with coronavirus set up a video call so a man could spend his final moments hearing the voices of his family.
A number of former healthcare professionals have returned to the NHS frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic, including Vanessa Smith.
Vanessa, a senior cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation, is carrying out a two-month secondment at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London.
‘As the Covid-19 pandemic started to grip the nation, it felt right to offer my help to go back to the wards and put my clinical skills back to use,’ Vanessa said.
‘Within a fortnight, I’ve seen some of the lows of losing loved ones too soon due to this virus, but also the feeling of relief and joy for patients whose health has improved and will hopefully get to return home.’
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She has been caring for patients affected by both Covid-19 and heart and circulatory conditions.
The hospital has stringent measures in place to separate those with coronavirus from people with other conditions. There is a section marked as ‘red’ which is an acute respiratory area for Covid-19 patients, providing support for patients with many different underlying health conditions and who require additional oxygen.
‘On my first day, I was assigned to the acute respiratory area,’ Vanessa said, ‘It was exciting jumping straight back in the deep end, but I also felt quite anxious, as this meant I would be looking after some of the most poorly patients with Covid-19.
‘The first step was to get dressed into PPE, which meant donning a gown, apron, mask, gloves and hood to fully protect myself. The hoods made it difficult to hear and very difficult for the patients and staff to identify me, so we have our names written on the hoods.’
She said the extra layers and tight face masks make it very hot, so staff have to rotate every few hours to have breaks to drink water and eat.
Vanessa added: ‘Sadly, one of my patients I was caring for was coming to the end of life. He wasn’t improving on maximum oxygen, and the plan was to make him as comfortable as we could in his last days.
‘As there were no visitors allowed due to the risk of contracting Covid-19, we had set up a Skype call so his family could be with him towards the end. This meant they could talk to him and say their goodbyes, and that he could hear their voices before he sadly passed away.
‘It was humbling to hear the family say thank you for looking after their loved one. I also felt proud that we were there for the patient, and that he wasn’t alone when his family couldn’t be there.’
She said she has seen a number of patients have better outcomes, but was shocked at how easily coronavirus can leave someone weak.
‘I’ve seen first-hand how much the virus can affect people who previously were independent and working and, though recovered from the worst of the virus, have been left extremely weak and having to need assistance with basic things such as having a shower,’ she said.
She also noticed how the cardiology ward was quieter regarding those who did not have coronavirus, as some people were worried about going to hospital.
‘Others have admitted being afraid to go to hospital, because they fear getting Covid-19,’ Vanessa said.
‘One patient came to hospital too late and is now living with severe heart failure due to the damage caused by the heart attack.
‘That’s why it’s so important that people continue to seek emergency care and treatment if experiencing possible heart attack symptoms.’
She said the British Heat Foundation offers rehabilitation advice and resources for those who are unable to attend cardiac rehabilitation classes due to social distancing measures.
Vanessa concluded: ‘Looking back at my time on the wards so far, it’s been tiring – it’s not just long shifts, but it has a huge emotional impact seeing such highs and lows, often all in one shift.
‘However, it’s been great to give support to fellow staff who have been dealing with the increased workload and working through this pandemic since day one.
‘What has certainly helped pull me through is seeing everyone pull together and support each other. Everyone is still smiling and giving the best possible care to all their patients, despite feeling anxious themselves in the surreal times we’re living in.’
The British Heart Foundation has launched an online coronavirus support hub to provide information for people living with heart and circulatory diseases in these difficult times.
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