The way we work and what we do has been turned upside down of late for all of us but none more so than for many nurses.
We asked Registered Nurse Nicky GabelL who works in a major hospital in Adelaide what has changed for her over the past months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
ANMJ– WHERE DO YOU WORK?
Nicky– I work in the overnight elective surgery unit (day surgery overnight) of the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
ANMJ– DID YOUR UNIT CHANGE? IF SO, HOW?
Nicky– It sure did! And very rapidly. Elective surgery was in the throes of being cancelled, which meant a downscaling of our work, even though we also acted as a surgical overflow ward for shorter stay surgical patients from ED/Acute Surgical Unit.
I came to work on an early shift as a team leader one day in March and was told we were swapping with another ward. We were moving into the designated COVID wing. This swap was done in a shift.
From this time, we never actually needed to open as a COVID ward and so remained shut (thank goodness). So from our day of moving we weren’t really a unit any more, as each shift we were all sent relieving wherever the shortfall was in the hospital, and never got to see each other.
ANMJ– HOW DID YOUR ROLE CHANGE?
Nicky– From the time our ward moved to the COVID wing, which never opened, each shift became a “relieving” shift for me.
Basically that meant I could be sent anywhere in the hospital where they needed an extra staff member or to make up for staffing shortfalls. I would only find out as I came to work every day and looked at the staffing allocation. The majority of shifts were spent in the currently open COVID wards, in the COVID screening clinic or at the main entrance doing screening for at risk visitors to the hospital.
ANMJ– WAS THERE ANY EXTRA PREPARATIONS TO WORK ON COVID-19 WARDS OR SCREENING AT RISK PATIENTS AND VISITORS?
Nicky– We were directed to our intranet learning portal where there was education about the correct donning and doffing of PPE. We were also directed to the WHO website, who had put out some information regarding COVID. I had already been fit tested the previous year for the N95 mask. It was a challenge at the beginning as things seemed to change every day.
ANMJ– DID YOU END UP LOOKING AFTER ANY PATIENTS WITH COVID-19?
Nicky– Yes, I did end up looking after confirmed COVID-19 patients. Although most of the patients I looked after while on the COVID wards were being treated as positive until confirmed otherwise.
Anyone with worsening or new respiratory issues were quarantined on the COVID wards until their swab results were known, regardless of risk factors. If their swab was returned negative they would be transferred to a non-COVID ward.
ANMJ– HOW DID THE CHANGES AT YOUR WORKPLACE MAKE YOU FEEL?
Nicky– It’s always a challenge coping with change at the best of times. My particular unit has had many changes over the last few years to cope with. But I also felt that this was an acceptable change for the health of the state and the hospital. If not us, then who?
We all saw the images from overseas of how absolutely out of control this virus was in some parts of the world, and continues to be. It felt like we were making a contribution to containing this virus as best we could. And knowing the rest of South Australia was out there doing their best for us by social distancing and self-isolation made it easier to go into work each day and cope at this challenging time.
And let me tell you it’s a struggle, albeit of course necessary, to get into and out of full PPE countless times a day and look down at your dry crispy hands from all the hand hygiene that you have performed with the alcoholic hand gel.
Yet the ability to say a reassuring word to our patients or let them know that even though they may feel alone through all of this, they certainly weren’t. We would always be there, no matter what…and that is a terrifying but profoundly satisfying feeling to have. It only takes one kind word. And like I said before…if not us, then who?