I adore being an intensive care nurse. Some people do not completely understand why. Most patients are sedated and therefore asleep or drowsy. Many nurses do not see the sense of satisfaction we get from caring for someone who cannot always interact with you. But they cannot see the journey. The journey you often take with a patient. I find there is nothing more rewarding than helping the sickest of the sick overcome something they should not have survived.
My absolute favourite part is when you wake someone up. When they are able to smile, and squeeze your hand. When we can take that breathing tube out and I hear them talk for the first time. The moment their family walks in for the first time and sees them awake and talking, that completely tops the joy you could ever feel. The feeling never gets old.
I can tell you now, their voice is never what you imagine. Nine times out of ten they are far funnier, sassier, extroverted than you ever thought, and their absolute favourite thing to do is tell you how annoying they find you. We are often the ones telling them they can't do this and they can't do that, so I can completely understand how frustrating we nurses can be.
For the last few weeks we have not had many of these moments. These moments that made me want to be an intensive care nurse. We have had far more of the other outcome. The outcomes that the news often states as an ever rising number. But they are not just numbers. They are people, people with family and friends. People who have died. Patients with coronavirus are very hard to extubate (take out the breathing tube). Many are needing a ventilator for up to two weeks, sometimes longer, when the most before this pandemic was seven days. We are also finding that if we take the tube out, a couple of days later it needs to go back in and patients need a ventilator to help them breathe again. So morale has been low.
This happened to a patient whose care I was overseeing. They were extubated and then a couple of days later, it sadly had to go back in. However yesterday they were doing a lot better. They were no longer sedated. They were wide awake and interacting with us, sometimes even laughing with us, but mainly rolling their eyes at us. After much careful thought from the medical and nursing team, we decided it was the right time to take the tube out. Right enough that they would not need that tube to go back in. With one quick cough, we guided the tube out.
I can tell you now, the patient was so happy (I would be, having a tube down your throat is not fun). Then they spoke, with their raspy voice, and we all applauded. Throughout the day they got better and better, requiring less and less oxygen via a face mask, till eventually they only required a little through their nose. They could not see our beaming faces through the masks but the universal sign of a thumbs up seemed to covey our happiness. We played some Britney Spears and Katy Perry. Us nurses danced, and they continued to roll their eyes. They even sat on the edge of the bed with the physiotherapists, and after three weeks in bed, I can tell you that is an incredible achievement!
I wanted to tell you all this story because it is finally some much needed good news in some very dark times. It is a little light at the end of the tunnel, a tunnel that often seems very long. But with every success story like this, with every recovery, we are one step closer to the end.