“If you don't have a sense of humour, you are not a medical worker.” Nurses, on the challenges and joy of working during the pandemic

May 29

Like doctors, nurses are on the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus. They risk their health every day and do everything they can to save patients. Since coronavirus patients have to be isolated from their relatives and friends, nurses are also there to boost the morale of infected people in addition to providing medical care.

This is a story about optimism that knows no bounds, about supporting colleagues and friends with the assistance of managers. How are Moscow’s nurses coping with stress, immense workloads and limited family contact?

Alyona Novikova: Times are tough, but there is no one but us to do the job

Senior nurse at the short-stay clinic at City Clinical Hospital No. 31.

In April, our hospital was repurposed to serve coronavirus patients. At first this seemed disturbing since we didn’t know what to expect. From a psychological perspective, seeing so many patients was hard. I also worried that we would not be there for someone soon enough. However, no one in our team gave in to these fears, and everyone stood firm. We all helped each other, and worked relentlessly without keeping track of time or thinking about clocking out. The hospital basically became our home, and we’re still there. There is an understanding among us that these are challenging times, and there is no one but us to do the job.

Having a friendly team working around you certainly helps, so when any of us feels overwhelmed, we try to support and cheer each other up with a touch of humour. There is a saying that if you don’t have a sense of humour, you’re not a medical worker.

Of course, like everyone we hope the situation will get back to normal. When this happens, we will all go on a picnic to celebrate together.

I have been working as a nurse for 21 years. I think what is happening right now is the most challenging period in my career. I have to admit that before that there was another instance that was extremely challenging for me from a psychological perspective. I was 17 years old, and was set as an intern in a paediatric intensive care unit at Rusakov Hospital (St. Vladimir Children’s City Clinical Hospital – mos.ru). This is where for the first time I saw a child die, and I instantly knew that I wouldn’t be able to work with children, because it’s too hard for me. This is why I have a lot of respect for people who work in children’s hospitals.

I work as a senior nurse in my department, which means I’m there almost around the clock, since I have to keep everything under control. We are dealing with a new disease, new medicines, and new emergency situations the nurses have never seen before. Out hospital has about 700 beds for coronavirus patients, and 75 of them are in my department.

Of course, there is a red zone and a green zone in the hospital. We never had a situation where some did not have enough personal protective equipment. We read a lot in the media and on social networks about doctors complaining about the lack of PPE, so there was anxiety here too. However, our managers made sure this did not happen to us.

We had to change the way we communicated with our families. Medical workers had to turn their attention away from their families. Some live in hotel rooms provided by the city so as not to bring the virus home. I am the mother of two, and my husband works at a state company with irregular hours. We had to do something to ensure that our kids weren’t alone. We asked our relatives and friends for help, and our friends agreed to keep our children, and we are very grateful for that. All our friends who know how we work support us. It is great to feel this support. I didn’t think so many people would offer to help.

My unit mostly focuses on severe cases. The clinical picture varies from one patient to another. Some get discharged from the hospital, others have to go through additional treatment, while others unfortunately cannot be saved. We exchange information with our colleagues at other hospitals to find out what’s going on, but so far we have been unable to understand why some people suffer more than others. It is true that there are many elderly patients, but there are quite a few young people too.

Giving advice in this situation is quite challenging, because people are tired of the whole thing. However, we have to be patient and united, helping each other without losing optimism or a sense of humour. This is especially true for the older generation, since they face the greatest difficulties now.

Nina Ivankova: The workload is huge, but we are ready

Acting Chief Nurse at City Clinic No. 68

Our clinic has been temporarily repurposed to serve as a centre for taking CT scans and working with COVID-19 patients. We get patients with flu symptoms, as well as confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases, and we use CT scans to diagnose COVID-related pneumonia.

If COVID-related pneumonia is confirmed, the patient can be sent to a hospital or be advised to stay home under medical supervision, depending on the severity of the case. We serve 50 to 80 patients per day. It goes without saying that our clinic complies with the epidemiological rules, and has a green zone and a red zone. Arriving patients go through a pre-examination area where they put on masks and gloves. Then, administrative staff wearing proper PPE does the paperwork, and sends the patients to the examination room, where they are examined by a doctor, nurses draw blood for a test, and perform a electrocardiography and a CT scan to confirm whether the patient suffers from pneumonia or not. Suspected cases stay within a determined area of the clinic that they cannot leave.

I work as a Chief Nurse in the clinic, which means that I am in charge of providing all the necessary supplies, disinfectants and PPE to our staff. In addition, there’s a lot of paperwork. I also work as a regular floor nurse, drawing blood from patients, doing electrocardiography tests, etc. Overall, there is a lot to do.

I had the coronavirus myself, and now I am back at work. So I really worry about my staff, and keep a close eye on how they feel, and whether they are regularly tested for COVID-19.

We are a close-knit team. Not a single staff member has refused to work with coronavirus patients for fear of becoming infected or has asked for additional privileges. Everyone is just doing their job. However, having had the virus, I know what it feels like, so I try to safeguard my active girls, help them and step in for my staff whenever I can.

We do understand that a lot now depends on the way we work, so we work late hours whenever necessary. I can say that so far the situation has been critical but stable. If we get fewer patients any given day, we keep up the pace without relaxing, since the workload can surge at any time. There is a lot of stress, but we are ready, and have become used to this rhythm.

We have had to change the way we communicate with our families. All communication is by phone, and we have not been able to get together as a family for quite a while now. This is not easy, but their health is a priority. I would like to ask everyone else to continue following the guidelines for the sake of their close ones.

Nurses usually come into the profession fresh out of college, but not me. I started by graduating from a teachers’ training college, and only then decided to join the medical profession. When my two children were born, I decided that the time had come to make my long-time dream come true, so I enrolled in a medical college and graduated as a maternity nurse. I worked in maternity, then moved to a reproductive health clinic, and after that I completed a professional course in Nursing Management to become a nurse.

I have been in the profession for 11 years now. Before coming to this clinic, I worked in a hospital. With this background, I require that all my fellow nurses know how to do everything, including first aid, electrocardiography and drawing blood. Every staff member must be a professional. What matters the most for me is to have an effective working environment, so my colleagues understand what I am saying midsentence, so that whenever someone falls sick others can step in. Of course, receiving thanks from patients, and when they are in good humour and smile is especially gratifying.

Maria Romashova: Arming ourselves with patience, and following advice

Senior Nurse at Botkin Hospital’s Consultative and Diagnostic Centre

The purpose of our consultative and diagnostics centre is to confirm a diagnosis or diagnose patients from outpatient clinics. During the pandemic we have had fewer people coming in, since most people are following the stay-at-home orders, postponing elective consultations that aren’t urgent.

So, we are now working with patients who can’t wait. These are patients suffering from nephrology conditions, cancer and some cardiovascular disorders. All doctors and medical staff use PPE, and patients also wear masks and gloves. By the way, this was the case before the requirement to wear masks was introduced.

I work as a senior nurse in the consultative and diagnostic centre’s first consultative department. Choosing this profession came from my heart since there were no medical workers in my family before. My unit mostly works in surgical care, and my main task is to support the department’s work.

What has been the biggest challenge? Probably finding an individual approach to each patient. After all, people coming to our centre have all kinds of conditions and pathologies, ranging from severe complex injuries to Parkinson’s disease, many cannot move around on their own, and many are depressed because of their illness. Being able to help patients is the gratifying part of the experience. Sometimes the best thing is to find the right words and offer moral support to change the way people feel and make them smile.

We don’t work with COVID-19 patients, but the pandemic has not spared anyone, and we are no exception. My mother is in the risk group. She stays home, and I bring her everything she needs in order to comply with the guidelines. In these challenging times, my advice to everyone is to be patient, follow the health advice and the stay-at-home orders. This is essential and will help the people who do so, as well as medical workers.

Source: mos.ru

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