I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to be here today and to share my experience. I am sure what I will say today will resonate with a lot of nurses across the country. I hope I will have made some impact on how we can improve the service if, God forbid, there is a second surge.
We went from being a 31-bed surgical ward to a Covid-positive only ward overnight. Only Covid-positive patients were admitted to our ward. We took on the task of the full multidisciplinary team as it did its remote reviews of patients. We were on the ward, at bedsides, 24 hours a day. It was an honour to care for patients. We love our job; that is why we are there. We bridged communications between patients and families using iPads, something we never had to do previously. The list is extensive; I could go on and on.
I will discuss the biggest change for me and my colleagues who contracted Covid-19. I contracted Covid on 30 April, six weeks after we became a Covid ward. I became a statistic when I tested positive for Covid-19. Initially, I was upset and quite angry, and that was the experience of my colleagues across the board. As I said, I followed hospital protocol and was competent in the use of PPE, but the emotions I initially felt were buried by the physical impact of Covid-19. I was crippled with fatigue, bed bound with headaches and had extreme shortness of breath, which caused great distress as I felt like I was suffocating. Many of my colleagues had the same symptoms.
I could not talk to my family or friends over the phone. I was in complete isolation. I lost my sense of taste and smell. Simple tasks such as washing and dressing or making a snack for myself were unachievable as I was completely debilitated. I presented to the emergency department about a week later because I was deteriorating at home. I was terrified. I have no underlying conditions, as I said, so it was a huge shock for me to be a patient in the emergency department in the hospital that I work in.
I was subsequently admitted for what I thought would be one or two nights' observation, but I was kept in for a week. I had a series of blood tests. I underwent a chest X-ray and a CT scan of my lungs, kidneys and other organs to rule out any damage that can be caused by Covid-19. As I said, there is no pattern. I was on a heart monitor 24 hours a day for six days because my heart rate increased to 170 bpm. Medical staff told me this was one of the post-viral effects of the illness.
I was negative for coronavirus at that stage but still had post-viral effects. The normal heart rate would be 60 to 80 bpm. I was on intravenous fluids to rehydrate me and received daily injections to ensure that I did not develop a blood clot which my experience as a nurse tells me can be potentially fatal. That was a worry.
The days and nights were extremely long in isolation. My concentration was massively affected and I was unable to pay any attention to a television that was playing in the background. I was relieved to get home about a week after I was admitted. Recovering in isolation is challenging both physically and mentally, as I have stated. I was unprepared for the psychological impact of contracting and living with Covid-19. It has definitely prolonged my road to recovery but I know I will get there and, hopefully, go back to work with my health at 100%.
For the first time, I experienced acute anxiety and panic attacks. I have ongoing insomnia. I can sleep for eight hours some nights but others I only sleep two to three hours, and I do not know why. I had vivid hallucinations at the start, as did some of my colleagues. That is not spoken about as a side effect. Everybody tends to speak about the physical signs and symptoms but the psychological effects, as I have said, are just as detrimental to recovery.
Twelve weeks on, I still have not returned to my pre-Covid health and still experience some fatigue. I will be fine one day and have to take an afternoon nap the next. Shortness of breath comes and goes. I am awaiting a lung function test to rule out a lasting impact from Covid. I am also very lucky that I have had physiotherapy input. I liaise with the hospital physiotherapy service to regain my strength and that will help to get me back to work eventually.