Tanya Taylor-Weaving and Becky Knight, who have made changes to intensive care at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, since the very beginning of the epidemic, were among the first NHS staff to experience the full impact of the disease.
The Aneurin Bevan University Health Council, which covers Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Newport, Caerphilly and Monmouthshire, at one time had the most cases of coronavirus per capita in the UK and continues to see levels well above national average.
In just a few days last March, the Royal Gwent completely transformed its appearance and functioning, with dozens of workers redeployed in intensive care to cope with the influx of Covid-19 patients requiring ventilation and sedation. .
Cumulative deaths by the sanitary bard since the beginning of the epidemic (until 11/5/20)
Despite enormous pressures facing frontline workers during the first month of the pandemic in Wales, the two nurses found time to record their experiences in a new documentary aired on BBC One Wales on Monday evening.
“There was not a day without tears, especially at the start,” said Tanya, an assistant sister in intensive care.
“We cried because we feared for our patients, we cried for their families, and we cried because we did not know what would happen next.
“But we were encouraged to express our emotions – and even the crazy dreams we had – so we knew we were not alone with these feelings. “
Tanya, 53, from Chepstow, was on vacation in Canada with her family when she first learned that the virus had started to affect Welsh patients.
“I was in complete denial. I couldn’t see what could happen here, ”she admitted.
“We had to be evacuated from Canada after about four days of stay. When I returned to work, the hospital I knew was gone. It felt like I came back to a completely different world. “
To cope with the huge increase in coronavirus cases, intensive care occupied a large part of the first floor of the Royal Gwent, with areas such as operating theaters and recovery areas transformed into makeshift UTIs.
Becky, a 29-year-old intensive care and intensive care nurse from Newport, said the entire intensive care team quickly learned to put on and take off their personal protective equipment (PPE).
“It has been very difficult to try to recognize other colleagues in full PEP,” she said.
“You could work with someone for 12 hours and it is only after removing everything that you realize who you are talking to.
“We have stickers on our PPE to identify who is a nurse and who is a doctor, and we have now printed photos of our faces, which makes it easier.
“But it is still very difficult to say whether a colleague is happy, frustrated or confused, for example. Just rely on verbal communication.
“Yes, it is difficult for us, but sometimes it is very, very difficult to imagine what it is like for the patient not to see our smiling faces. “
The two nurses said they had treated a range of different Covid-19 patients, from the elderly with underlying chronic conditions to those who were much younger and previously healthy.
“In general, in intensive care, we will see patients who suffer from pneumonia. They will start to progress and leave the unit in a few days, “said Becky.
“But what is striking with coronavirus patients is that they will stay with us for a much longer period – about three weeks.
“We have also seen coronavirus patients show signs of improvement and then become incredibly sick again. We’ve never experienced this before. “
At its peak in late March and early April, the intensive care unit treated three times more patients than it normally would.
The nurses said that while they had many years of experience in such high pressure environments, the same was not true for some of those who were called upon to help.
“Some of these nurses have not really seen death. I couldn’t imagine being in their place. But we really worked together as a team and supported each other in unity, “said Tanya.
“Our managers also provided psychologists on site. But the truth is, I don’t think we will know how it will affect us until it is finished. “
Mom of two, Becky, said she was concerned that her family might catch him from Covid-19, but that she felt very safe from the virus at work.
“In fact, I feel like I am more likely to get it outside of the hospital,” she added.
“My husband works in a supermarket and I think he is more likely to catch it than me.
“But what I’m feeling right now is exhaustion at home, especially after two or three days in full PPE. I am absolutely exhausted physically and mentally.
“I want to make little pieces around the house during my days off, but I feel so exhausted. “
Tanya admitted that even though she felt safe during her shifts, the virus was wreaking havoc on her family life.
“My mother lives in an annex to the house. She is 70 years old and has not been out of her house for eight weeks, “she added.
“When I come home from work, she always wants to give me a big hug, but I always have to say” no “. “
Becky and Tanya admitted that one of the most difficult aspects of the whole ordeal was seeing patients die without their families elsewhere.
Tanya said, “We are trying to cope with FaceTime families as much as possible because they cannot get into the rooms.
“But a patient never dies alone. We always hold his hand until he takes his last breath and his heart beats for the last time. “
Becky added, “It is a privilege to be the one to hold someone’s hand when he dies. It’s incredibly sad, but you also feel a sense of pride to be there for them. “
But the pair say that even in the most difficult times, they need to find an element of humor and fun during their shifts to keep them in a positive mood.
“I think there is a prerequisite for an intensive care nurse to be a little crazy,” Tanya joked.
“But we also have to laugh and have humor between us. “
Video not available
The nurses said they hoped that by documenting their daily working lives, they would help the general public understand what they are dealing with.
“I think the show should be mandatory, especially when you see people partying during this epidemic,” said Tanya.
“As capacity improves now, we don’t want to go into another spike, and we hope people will buy into the” stay at home “message that the Welsh government is adopting. “
And Becky concluded: “The support from the general public has really given us a boost. The gifts and messages have been overwhelming. It’s nice to know that they thought of us. “
The BBC Wales documentary, “Critical: Coronavirus in Intensive Care”, was filmed entirely by NHS staff on cell phones and small cameras.
It provides a unique personal insight into hospital life during the most serious public health crisis in memory.
The documentary producer Luke Pavey said, “Over the course of a month, we have collected hundreds of short videos – snapshots of how the coronavirus affected staff both professionally and personally.
“I think the film we produced is a unique and fascinating glimpse into the lives of the ICU staff who are trying to care for people with the virus.
“It shows the challenges they face, but also their extraordinary resilience, and how, despite the unprecedented challenges, they are always ready to roll up their sleeves, do their job to the best of their ability and do it with a smile on their lips. . They ‘is an incredible group of people who do incredible work. ”
Review: Coronavirus in Intensive Care will be broadcast on BBC One Wales on Monday May 11 at 9 p.m.