One moment of the last year that stands out to me is a night shift towards the beginning of the pandemic. I was a newly qualified nursing associate and was working on the gastro ward. We were looking after somebody who'd come to the hospital with back pain.
At that time, every patient was being swabbed for Covid-19 and, although this patient tested negative when they were first admitted, they tested positive shortly after arriving on the ward.
On one particular night shift, the patient became very confused and was in pain all night. This was the first time I'd looked after a patient with coronavirus. We were in full PPE and I couldn't help but think how much more difficult the goggles, masks and scrubs made it for people to communicate with us, especially for someone as confused as this patient was.
They were in a side room throughout their stay and I spent the whole night reviewing them together with a doctor. It was incredibly difficult to listen and comfort them. This was understandably distressing for the patient, but also for me and the other patients on the ward.
At the end of the shift I handed over to my colleagues as usual. When I went back the next night, my manager called me into her office where I learned the patient had had a cardiac arrest shortly after I had gone home and passed away.
It was heart-breaking. I'd spent a lot of time looking after them and had built up a good rapport. They'd shared that they were married and had a son at university - they seemed so proud of their family. Their death was incredibly sad and thinking back on it now, it still affects me.
The effect coronavirus had on people who use services was so sudden
This patient's story was particularly upsetting because they were someone who made me think that this could happen to me. Although I'm a newly qualified nursing associate, I've worked in health and care for a number of years as a health care assistant (HCA).
Working in health and care you build up some resilience, but the fact a patient of a similar age to me could come in, with what should be a relatively straightforward case, and become so unwell with coronavirus, was very difficult to come to terms with.
In fact, a little earlier on in the pandemic I had a moment where I had finished work and a sort of black mist came over me and I thought, 'This could happen to me.' I actually arranged my will and communicated my wishes for funeral arrangements to my mum. It was a fleeting moment - I had a good discussion with my mum (who is a nurse, and an old fashioned one at that!) and she made me realise that with something like this you have to go in and face it.
At university, they teach you a lot about the reassurance side of things - not letting someone in your care know you're scared. Looking back, I think being brave and not letting your fear take over is a skill I’ve got better at since that night shift. With coronavirus, I think the situation was different. We were facing so many unknowns, and it was difficult for staff not to show that they were just as frightened as the patients.
Reassurance from colleagues helped me to carry on
At the time of that night shift, I'd only been working as a nursing associate for six months. Being so newly qualified, my initial instinct was to think, 'Did I do something wrong?'
Thankfully, my manager picked up on this straight away and reassured me that I did everything right. I happened to be early for my shift that night so she gave me time to talk through what had happened with her in detail. On reflection, I think having that time to digest what had happened before I started my next shift was so important.
I'm also grateful that I had support from the wonderful team in the hospital. I was backed up by registered nurses with lots of experience. At night there's a skeleton staff so getting a doctor to review a patient is easier said than done, but as gastro was an acute ward it was on the list for the doctors to visit regularly. I also knew the doctor on shift well and felt they were very supportive.
I still have fleeting thoughts about that patient. They stayed with me in the weeks following that night too. This year has made me stop and realise you have to take time for yourself and your own wellbeing. Before coronavirus, I would pick up extra shifts wherever I could and sometimes just have one day's rest. Now I make sure I have time to rest and reflect as I recognise how important it is for me.