“I never imagined being part of history and serving during a pandemic.”
Kollyn Nelson Marajas (27) has been an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse for seven years, moving to Ireland from her native Philippines to work in Dublin in 2017, then joining the team at Cork University Hospital in January of this year.
When the pandemic began, Kollyn and her colleagues faced down the coronavirus with a mixture of courage and trepidation. Now, as Phase Three of the roadmap for Ireland’s easing of the Covid-19 restrictions begins, Kollyn explains what life is like on the frontline during a global emergency… and why now is not a time for complacency.
‘I was confident that no situation could scare me or make me crumble.’
“On March 23rd, 2020, all that I believed about myself and my profession was questioned – the fear set in and it set in so quickly. As I was donning my personal protective equipment and preparing to enter the ICU of one of the biggest hospitals in Munster, I truly felt humbled by all that was happening.
I never imagined being part of history and serving during a pandemic. Not in my wildest dreams would I have seen myself wearing hazmat suits and walking like an astronaut with all the gear. It is like being deployed for war with no guarantee of returning alive. For the first time, I actually felt that nursing is truly a calling. It’s not for the faint of heart.
‘Entering an intensive care unit where all the patients are Covid-19 positive is scary as hell.’
I never knew how my day would go but I knew it would be busy. As I saw our patients, I realised this virus does not choose who will it affect, it does not discriminate. The patients are all of different ages, nationalities, creeds and cultures. They came from all over the country, from different backgrounds. They worked different jobs. The only common denominator is our species; we are all humans and we can all be affected and severed by this virus.
Some patients were worse than the others but they were all sick. As an ICU nurse, I never call someone sick unless they are obviously dying. Most of them have respiratory and kidney machines to keep them going. The amount of drugs that have to be mixed and given is almost overwhelming.
For some people who do not realise what we do as ICU nurses, I’ll give you a shortlist of the basic routine that we have to do to ensure our patients’ safety. It’s not merely looking after a patient and sitting around, we have to put them on different monitors, check their heart waves, make sure that they have the proper respiratory support settings, top-up heart medications to keep blood pressure up and check that their drugs are all correct and do not counteract each other. We have to roll them to prevent pressure sores. Those are only the basics.
Being in a very warm, impervious gown, a very tight FFP3 mask and goggles, with the paranoia of making sure that your gloves are elbow-high, is surreal. The PPE has to be worn for more than four hours, depending on your breaks. In ICU, nurses do 12-hour shifts, meaning all the nurses have to don and doff their PPE at least three times a day.
The PPE is treated as skin and serves as the only barrier against the invisible enemy. Thankfully we were never short of PPE and all of the managers and colleagues were so good at looking out for each other. We all managed to adjust and make room for improvement every single day.
In this together
What made it bearable working in a Covid-19 ICU? The people, who never stop showing up for work, and the camaraderie between healthcare professionals. Without the high spirits of every nurse serving during the Covid-19 pandemic, we would all have failed this ordeal.
Despite the gruelling workload, every single nurse had a smile on their face after a long day. We had to put a name-tag on our PPE to make ourselves known – everyone drew a smiley face or a funky symbol; the little things that made everyone’s day brighter.
Despite the pressure, I never heard anybody curse or snap at each other. Some of us had to book temporary accommodation to protect loved ones at home. Some had to self-isolate for 14 days after exposure to patients who were positive. Some had to leave their kids at home with their partners and not see them for the entire time. It was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting.
‘We are not ready for a second wave.’
After more than ten weeks of being in the Covid ICU, I am certain of one thing; we are not ready or even able for a second wave. All of our resources and manpower have been exhausted. The virus has not been fully eradicated and we should all be aware of that. As we get nearer to Phase 3, I am asking people to do a few things for us, your healthcare workers:
- Maintain social distancing. Always remember that we should embrace this new normal for now because the virus has not been fully eradicated yet.
- Wash your hands. There is no better way to prevent any type of virus or bacteria than to have good hand hygiene. There is no substitute.
- Use masks properly. Some masks will protect you from the virus but one of the most important roles they have is to remind you not to touch your face. Avoid touching your mask and ensure you dispose of your masks safely.
- Skip the gloves if you are not familiar with how they work. Gloves need to be taken off every after a task in the hospital – we even disinfect them before taking them off. Stick with the good hand hygiene and you’ll be fine.
- Have a good coughing and sneezing etiquette. Respect the people around you. Use a disposable hanky or use your elbow when sneezing and coughing. Again, wash your hands.”