Updated: Apr 21
*Disclaimer* I am completely aware how lucky I am to have access to full personal protective equipment (PPE ) when caring for patients who are suspected of being or are coronavirus positive.
The whole of my hospital's intensive care unit (ICU), theatres and recovery are filled with patients who are critically unwell with coronavirus. I am standing outside the the double doors that say "The Red Zone". To enter I need to don. Donning is a whole procedure in itself. First goes on the long sleeved gown, on top of my scrubs. The type of gown changes everyday. It depends what is available. Sometimes its a surgical gown, sometimes its a plastic gown, sometimes its a full jumpsuit. One day the jumpsuits were blue and I looked like a mechanic, about to break into a rendition of Grease Lightening. Another day, they were white and I looked like a forensic scientist, ready to investigate a crime scene. One thing that is for sure however, I am already hot.
Next, is the surgical cap. Sometimes they are the white ones so you see my newly pink hair shining through. Sometimes they are the ones with the ties, so I have to wear two to cover all my pink hair. Not one baby hair can be poking out. Following that comes the face mask. The much sought after FFP3, that creates a tight seal around your nose and mouth. It is type of mask you have the be fitted for. I am careful where I place the elastic. I have learnt where they dig into my ears and neck. I pinch it tight around my nose, I can already start to feel it rubbing. I place my hands around the seal and blow. I need to be sure there are not any leaks.
I move onto my face shield. Sometimes it's goggles, like the one from science class. Sometimes it's a full face shield with soft foam padding for the forehead. Sometimes it's a 3D printed face shield, that the public have so kindly made for us. Finally I put on my gloves, making sure that none of the skin on my hands or wrists is exposed. I get someone to write my name on the front of my gown and ICU nurse on the back. Then, I walk into "The Red Zone".
I feel people under estimate what it is like to wear this PPE. We can be wearing it for about fours hours at a time, with thirty minute breaks inbetween. However sometimes it can be up to eight hours. Interestingly you cannot choose when your patient opens their bowels.
It's hot and it's sweaty. You cannot at any point take your mask off. That itch on your face, that's really starting to annoy you, don't you even dare think about scratching it. Are you thirsty? Are you hungry? You will have to doff (take off your PPE) and leave "The Red Zone" to do that, and that is a whole other procedure! I have had to find a whole new mental resistance to tolerate how uncomfortable I can feel.
This is before you have even started moving. Nursing is as physically demanding as it is mentally. ICU patients need three to four people to reposition them, and this needs to be done every two to four hours. As I hinted to before, they can also need a freshen up inbetween those times. Patients are having multiple scans and x-rays, they need to be moved for these too. I am overseeing up to four of these patients.
I can sense the sweat along my hairline, on my top lip, but I cannot wipe it away. I feel disgusting. I feel like I am constantly moving in slow motion. Everything takes just that little bit longer. I am on my feet for twelve hours. They are swollen and aching. I do not stop.
Before I pass through those double doors again I must doff. The last thing on is the first thing off. I take my time. You have to be careful you do not contaminate yourself. I feel the cool air touch my skin, it is a relief. My hands are stinging from the constant washing . My nose is red and peeling from the mask. My scrubs are soaked through from the sweating. I am exhausted from working in PPE.
PPE is necessary for me to do my job at the moment. Where I work, in ICU, I am at a high risk of exposure to coronavirus due to the high amounts of aerosol generating procedures. This means the coronavirus is likely to be floating around in the air. So I wear the full shebang. Although it is tough, I am so thankful for it. Without it I would not be able to keep doing what I am doing. Keep doing what I love. It keeps me safe. It keeps my colleagues safe. It keeps my patients safe.