Journal of an intensive care nurse fighting coronavirus in 13-hour teams on the front line

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Maria Lizcano Gómez is a rehabilitation nurse at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and was reassigned to intensive care during the pandemic.

She works 13 hour shifts, day and night. Here, she shares a diary of the past two weeks on the front line…

Mid-March: start of the pandemic

I love my job, I love what I do everyday – I save lives. I also love my team and my co-workers, our professionalism and our proximity.

They can change my day from a horrible and stressful change to a happy change.

But something is wrong and I feel it as soon as I get into my unit.

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Maria Gomez worked 13 hour teams on the front line

We’ve been hearing about the pandemic for a few months now, how people get sick and die, how doctors in China, Italy and Spain have to choose who to save and who not, who gets put a fan and that doesn’t.

This first day is like being on a battlefield.

Everyone runs, orders new materials and tidies up the unit. There are meetings and others going on.

“It’s here,” we are told. “So get ready.” “

We want to look calm outside. But inside, everyone panics. I think, “How am I going to coordinate a recovery unit with no patients to recover? Where is my team? What should we do? ’

There is training – how to wash your hands, how to properly put on PPE, what to do in the event of cardiac arrest, how to manage a ventilated patient.

We all share our knowledge and skills, discuss and improve, as we always do. And in the midst of all this chaos, we all suddenly stop and it’s silent. The intensive care unit fills up, we’re told we have to fight now.

I see my manager running with a phone in one hand, a beep in his pocket and 100 papers and documents in the other, and she asks the team if we can start helping our colleagues in the ICU sooner than expected.

I had to take a day off, but I cannot stay home and take advantage of a day off when other nurses work non-stop for days and days in a row. So I put on my uniform.



Maria Gomez felt like she was going to collapse walking her dog on a day off

Sunday March 22: Day shift, 7:45 a.m. – 8:15 p.m.

I tremble at being so tired that I didn’t sleep well because I was thinking too much about bed. I am scared.

Someone said to me a few days ago, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. I saw how it started in the intensive care and the faces of your colleagues, but every time they are there, you will be more relaxed, because you will know what to do to save your patient. “

And that’s also why I came in today – I wanted to see it, confront it, so I will know how to handle it.

PPE is something I’m having a hard time getting used to. I’m also claustrophobic, so it’s not easy to wear it for 13 hours.

But I’m lucky, I know, to have what I need to work during a pandemic.

At the end of my shift, my nose and cheeks are sore and red. My face and hands get dry and itchy as the day goes on, and I’m tired of being under layers of protective gowns and gloves.

It was only my first day, but I did it.

Monday March 23: late shift, 12:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.

The hospital has just expanded its intensive care unit because we are expecting more patients from other hospitals.

As a recovery nurse with intensive care experience, I was sent to the enlarged unit. I have been working with ventilated patients for four years now.

In a crisis, I learned to leave my fears behind and to trust myself, as well as the skills and knowledge that I have, because it all depends on that. The day goes by quickly and I don’t even sit down.

Fortunately, I can see my team and catch up with them. We also laugh and share experiences about our early days and how we will all gain weight.

We plan to end our shift by drinking a glass of wine or beer and eating pizza. I guess we deserve it.



NHS workers cheer on streets outside Chelsea and Westminster Hospital

Tuesday March 24: Day shift, 7:45 a.m. – 8:15 p.m.

At the morning shed, I was told that one of the bay patients was so sick.

The nurse who takes care of the patient runs all day, she sweats, she does not stop for 13 hours.

As a team, we do everything for this patient and, fortunately, he improves towards the end of the shift.

I say she is a day nurse and we all applaud in the bay.

There’s a good atmosphere, I even have tears in my eyes. I’m starting to feel like maybe, maybe just, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday March 26: day off

I haven’t had enough water in the past three days.

My mom is worried about me. While I phone him in the park walking my dog, I suddenly feel dizzy.

I go home and lie on the couch for an hour and a half.

The living room turns like I’m drunk – I wish it was.

My roommate and boyfriend are coming and they are so worried about seeing me like this. They make me call 111, but I can’t speak to anyone because the lines are so busy, so I hang up.

I am dehydrated and exhausted from the changes. I sleep under the applause of the NHS.

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Coronavirus epidemic

Friday March 27: Night shift, 8 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.

Today I’m working on admissions.

Every nurse knows how stressful and difficult admission is, even more so under these circumstances.

I know I will be up all night. Later, I realize that a patient who was recovering the other day is no longer in the unit.

I am shocked and ask my colleagues where he is. I discover that he deteriorated and was transferred to the intensive care unit.

During the shift, I notice that some of the ICU beds have webcams on top of the computers, so families and loved ones can see them. It’s kind of beautiful.

Tuesday March 31: Day shift, 7:45 a.m. – 8:15 p.m.

Everything is still changing today and the units I work on are very busy. It’s non-stop again and I have to fight my tears when I transfer one of my patients to the other intensive care unit.

Everyone is running and sweating all the time because of PPE. I can’t see any faces below but I can see the eyes. They all look sad and tired.

Later, we receive an email from the hospital saying that the worst is yet to come.

But one thing makes me smile today.

A patient’s children can talk to their father over the phone.

I realize that it has been two weeks since I started working with Covid-19 patients and that the future is very, very uncertain.

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