For me personally, it was hard choosing to opt-in to an extended placement because I was worried about bringing the virus home and about my course completion date being pushed back. But at the same time, it felt like an incredible learning opportunity.
I started my first placement last May. I was on an elderly care ward; caring for people with conditions like dementia, or who needed palliative care, or were at the end of life. One day I was asked to provide care to a patient who needed constant one-to-one support.
I remember approaching and being really surprised to see a young person in the bed.
It was tough because before going on placement we'd heard about Covid-19 affecting elderly people and people with co-morbidities. And here was a young, healthy looking person.
They were in bed staring at the ceiling. I learned this person had been stepped down from 30 days in intensive care with Covid-19 and now they were suffering from intensive care delirium, which is common after a prolonged period of ventilation.
They were brought to the geriatric ward because there are nurses who are specially trained in caring for people with conditions like this. And there were more people coming to hospital who needed intensive care. I sat in the room with the patient and I remember they seemed to be talking to people who weren't there. I was in full PPE, which made it harder to communicate, but I sat with them throughout my 12-hour shift, making sure they were safe.
I saw them again about a week later and they were much more aware and alert. Then another week later, I could hold a full conversation with them, and that's when they were discharged. They didn't remember that I'd sat with them when they came out of intensive care, but I wanted them to know they hadn't been on their own. They seemed very grateful - their family did, too.
The last few weeks have been the toughest
I'm now on placement in intensive care. And somehow, for nine weeks, I didn't see anyone die on my shift. But yesterday, for the first time, someone I'd been caring for passed away. We'd done everything we could, but they were just so poorly that they weren't going to get better. Their family came in and got to say their goodbyes - two family members for half an hour.
There's some relief in that. The family preferred not to be there when the person passed away, because they wanted to remember how they were before. So, I reassured them I'd be there, and we'd make sure they were pain-free.
Then the nurse talked me through what was going to happen. You keep up the pain relief and turn down the oxygen, and let nature take its course. We sat and held the patient's hand as they took their last breaths. It's right that they weren't alone.
It's been hard but also empowering
The nurses around me have been so supportive, asking me if I need anything and checking I'm OK. They're making sure we get our breaks and the time we need for ourselves. Everyone keeps saying to me: 'This isn't how intensive care normally is'. But they're handling it so well. It's been really hard, but it's taught me so much.
Being in intensive care has forced me to become more confident and competent. You can't fall back on being a student, you have to step up. There's pressure, and at times it's been physically and mentally exhausting. But in a sense, it's also been empowering.
Because when you're holding a dying person's hand in intensive care during a pandemic, you don't feel like a student. You feel like a nurse. And I've decided I want to be an intensive care nurse.