Laura usually works as Matron for Paediatric Outpatients, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been redeployed to a paediatric ward. She has also been running a wellbeing hub to support other staff working on the front line. We spoke to her about the impact coronavirus has had on hospital life, and the difference support from the charity has made to her.
How long have you worked at King's College Hospital?
On and off for over 10 years
Have you worked on a COVID-19 ward?
I have done some shifts on the COVID-19 wards. I did it more as bank staff because I wanted to support my team who were redeployed there. As a matron I wasn’t going to be redeployed to those areas, so I was finding it hard to experience it for myself, so I could support my team appropriately. So I put myself forward for shifts when I had days off.
How many days a week were you working?
It got to the point where I was doing maybe nine days on and then a day off, with varying hours. Some days I could go home at 2pm/3pm, but other days I was coming in at 7am and not leaving until 9pm.
Do you live locally to King's?
Yes it’s a 20 minute walk home for me which is really good. I don’t think I could have done it if I was living further away.
Do you have kids?
I have got two boys aged 11 and 13. They are amazing and are being really self sufficient. My husband is self-employed so he is at home anyway, but he is still trying to run his business, so it’s a little bit of a juggling act. The kids have been left to their own devices a lot and the youngest has found a flair for making cakes.
How many shifts did you do on a COVID-19 ward?
Only a few, but one of my current jobs is I am a matron on a paediatric COVID-19 ward. The matron who usually covers that ward couldn’t do it so I have taken it over for her so she can cover her other ward. It has mainly been children who are symptomatic and waiting for their results. We have a few kids that have been really sick, but mainly we have been quite lucky.
What have been the main differences you have noticed around the hospital in the last couple of months for your day to day life?
I have to say I think teams have become a lot closer. Not just teams on the individual wards, because people have been redeployed, but because we have had the wellbeing hubs there has been an awful lot more mixing and I think there has been an awful lot more appreciation for what each person does.
The COVID-19 wards (the adult intensive care units) have been very regimented, amazing working machines. They have totally changed the way that the nurses are caring for patients, so you might have an intensive care nurse who is caring for multiple patients and because of that they will have a runner, so that means the nurse looking after the patient has someone they can ask to go and get stuff and help with a lot of things that would normally take a lot of time, this allows the nurse to spend more time with the patient.
I was in a cubicle for a couple of shifts and it can feel quite isolating being in there on your own, because you’re in there for four hours on your own.
What’s a cubicle?
A room where you have one patient. On a ward, nurses can look after multiple patients, but on ICU you have one nurse looking after one patient. Normally, if you have a patient in a cubicle and they aren’t ventilated, the nurse can pop in and out to get things. But during the COVID-19 situation, because of the PPE and having to put it on and take it off which takes time, you can't pop out of the cubicle for a quick toilet break. You have to manage your shift so you have four hours in a cubicle, then you have a tea break.
The cubicle has a white board at the door, so you can write things you need and runners drop them off for you so you didn’t have to leave.
Were the baby monitors donated through the Hospital Heroes Appeal useful here?
These were used in the areas that weren’t already set up as ITU’s, e.g. theatres and recovery as these areas didn’t have any existing comms set up.
I can imagine how daunting it must have been, especially with nurses that were probably quite junior and hadn’t been in that situation before.
What's it like to be wearing PPE?
The PPE is really hot. I had a reaction to the mask. I did two shifts back to back as it was bank holiday weekend and I had a few days off together, so I decided to do two shifts one after the other, and by the time i finished, I went home and my face where the rubber bit on the mask sat was really really itchy and sore and it went very red for several days. It feels really hot and for people who are claustrophobic, it must be a real challenge.
Can you communicate in PPE?
You find yourself shouting, and everyone responds with “what” or “pardon” so you are constantly repeating yourself. That is why the whiteboards were so helpful. We wrote little messages to cheer each other up which is quite sweet.
What kind of things have you received that you think might have been donated?
At Easter we had loads of Easter eggs. I was working that weekend and the senior team walked round and gave them out. The smiles on people’s faces from that were amazing.
It’s little things like that, especially for people who are away from their families at the moment as they are having to isolate. It must be so hard. I'm really lucky I get to go home to my family, but others are literally on their own. We have had a few nurses from abroad and they do find that the little things really make a big difference to them.
There was some eye gel that got donated from somewhere. I didn’t realise how dry my skin was! Being on ITU where all of the air is filtered, you are wearing all the PPE and aren’t able to drink for a lot of the day and washing your hands all the time. At the end of the day being able to put some hand cream on and eye gel on felt great.
I got some black slipper socks and that was so good! I went home and had a bath with the salts in there, and I put the slipper socks on afterwards and thought YES! It was so, so relaxing.I got a Bodyshop musk spray at my desk and I used it a lot when I was here for long hours to freshen up.
I know my colleagues got basic care stuff like toothbrushes and paste to help them - just really basic care stuff that helps them keep fresh at work, because when you are wearing all of that PPE you feel really gross. It’s horrible and all you want is to wash your face or brush your teeth.
Also the food and drink that was being donated. I had Wagamamas and food from Medirest. On night shifts on the COVID-19 wards, you get really hungry because you are using more energy to stay awake, so having the snacks on the COVID-19 wards has made a big difference to them. And the hubs opening at 8am ready for the night staff going home was great. In this hub, we have had Gail’s Bakery donating bread to us, and the night staff who are coming in can take a loaf of bread on their way home.
I had a nurse coming in at the end of their shift one day and they said they had to go to the shop on the way home to get some eggs, but you know what the queues are like at the shops at the moment. But there had been a donation of eggs, so I was able to give her a box and the look on her face was just such relief, that she could just go straight home and not have to queue at a shop.
“I got a linen laundry bag out of a box earlier and it had a little tag on it that said, “Made with love for the NHS, thank you so much for everything you are doing” and it took my breath away. You just don’t realise the number of people who are at home doing things to help us.”
Although we can’t physically thank people, in our heads we are saying THANK YOU.
Thinking about all of the companies and individuals who have donated to the hospital, every single donation has been so well appreciated and well received. I know the staff - there are so many people here working hard, the fact that they are being appreciated by the public and we can say thank you in our way by looking after them and their families is give and take in a way.
When you have had something with a label on it, i.e. the linen bag, how did it make you feel?
I got a linen bag out of a box earlier and it had a little tag on saying “made with love for the NHS, thank you so much for everything you are doing” and a heart, and it took my breath away a little bit. I thought oh my gosh, you don’t realise the number of people who are at home doing things to help us.
What's your favourite thing that's been donated?
The coffee machine that got donated is my favourite thing in the world!
A lovely guy called Nick donated it to the hospital
I would love to write him a letter! Do you know how many coffees that machine has made!? The number of people who every morning queue for the coffees?! He has made such a massive difference. We have someone manning that coffee machine all day every day. I have even learnt how to make mochas!
Although the coffee machine is great for people who come in the hub, are the staff who are on the front line in PPE able to access it if they can’t leave the wards?
We do try and take things around to the wards and deliver them cakes and treats when they are donated. Also when they have their breaks, we are trying to get them to have longer breaks so they can come off the ward and have a proper break, and they also don’t have to spend time going to the shop, they can sit down and have a coffee. We also make sure their fridges are stocked up with water and drinks.
It sounds like there is a lot of solidarity and teamwork
It seems to have broken down a lot of walls between the senior management team and the frontline as well. If you had asked someone six months ago who the Exec of something was or showed them the who’s who poster, people wouldn’t be able to pick anyone out. But now, with all of this going on, you see senior management walking around the wards, checking on staff, having conversations everyone, and I think part of it is that there isn’t all of these meetings that people get caught up in constantly. That’s all been taken away which has made it all more possible for people to have those discussions and get to know each other a bit more which is so much nicer.
22 May 2020