Full PPE, video calls, tough challenges and teamwork: Northampton intensive care nurse reflects on pandemic year

On the day of reflection, the frontline nurse is looking back on a tough and intense year

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 2:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 2:28 pm

A nurse who has worked on an intensive care unit in Northampton throughout the pandemic has shared her reflections on the 12 months as we mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Sophie Mayes is a sister in the intensive care unit at Northampton General Hospital, where she has worked for 14 years.

The 39-year-old, who has worked in critical care for a total of 17 years, has spent the last year in full PPE, looking after patients worse affected by the virus and, sadly, seeing people die with Covid-19.

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Sophie Mayes has worked in critical care throughout the pandemic.
Sophie Mayes has worked in critical care throughout the pandemic.

Now, as cases and hospital admissions fall, the dedicated nurse is looking back on the tough challenges, as well as the immense support from colleagues which has come as a result of the pandemic.

Sophie said: “The last year has been intense and obviously totally beyond any of our expectations.

“When we went into lockdown, we didn’t know what it would be like.

“The first wave was busy and hard, but we coped as we had amazing support from redeployed staff.

“We had people working with us and supporting us from out-patients and theatre who had never worked in ITU before. They were amazing and without them we would not have managed.

“We then had a little bit of breathing space in the summer, but we still had patients in and we were still in full PPE.

“Then in the lead up to Christmas things really racked up again and got really busy.

“The second wave was even more intense and hard.

“We weren’t in the same place as we were before. We were jaded.

“It was harder knowing what was coming the second time. We knew what we were going to go through and the amount of patients in the second wave was higher.

“We also didn’t seem to get as many patients who were surviving in the second wave, which was obviously very hard on staff.”

During the second wave, redeployed staff joined Sophie’s team once again and the theatre area was used to expand the critical care area.

As cases rose, the pandemic once again took a toll on those working on the frontline and their families, which Sophie says was one of the many challenges.

The mum-of-three added: “It’s difficult to decompress when you can’t do the things you would normally do like seeing family.

“We’ve seen first hand how families are destroyed and torn apart by this virus so it’s made me appreciate my family and my time with my children.

“My children are worried about me going to work but I have always explained that I am very protected at work and I have always felt protected.

“Sometimes it’s hard to leave things at work, especially if people have just passed away as I know their family members will be struggling.

“We have been involved in a lot of video calls and heard a lot of personal messages so that can be really upsetting, but we try to speak to colleagues as we have shared experiences and can support each other.”

As a result of the pandemic and the mental health challenges for staff, Sophie and a colleague have created a wellbeing team whereby colleagues support each other through their shared experiences.

So far, 20 members of staff have been trained as part of the wellbeing team and plans are in place for other wellbeing initiatives too.

“The thing that sticks with me through all of this is the amazing team we created in a short space of time and how resilient our staff have been,” Sophie continued.

“If you can take a positive from this, that’s the one I will take.

“We have all been through it together and as a team we have really supported each other.

“The amount of deaths we have seen is sad, but we will try to look back and reflect on how we came together as a team and how that team has developed massively through the pandemic.

“I would not want to go through it again - I don’t think any of us would. We have all managed but it has been a challenge.”

The expansion unit set up to help cope with the second wave has now been closed, which Sophie says is a huge positive.

“There’s almost a weight lifted feeling. We have got through it again, so let’s take a breath,” Sophie said.

“We still have Covid-positive patients, but far less, thankfully.

“The focus is now on restoration of the team.

“We need to take time to reflect on what we have been through and look to the future, although nobody really knows what will happen as lockdown eases.”

As restrictions begin to be lifted, Sophie and her medical colleagues are pleading with members of the public to continue to follow the rules and take the opportunity to have a vaccine as soon as it is offered.

“Moving forward with vaccines, we really want people to uptake their vaccines to protect us in the future so we don’t have to do this again,” Sophie added.

“Covid will be around for a long time, but if people take up the vaccines hopefully it won’t be in an extreme or big way as it has been.

“All my colleagues are all going for their vaccines when they’re called on and we are urging people to do the same.

“With lockdown easing, we all need to abide by the rules still.

“We’re doing it in stages for a reason - trying to make sure cases don’t rise. It’s still around so we need to repress it.”

One year on from the start of the first lockdown, the nation today (March 23) has a reflection day, including a minute's silence and a doorstep vigil. Read more about it here.

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