On the frontline against coronavirus
- Credit: Lisa Boyle
A Suffolk nurse has spoken of her experiences working in intensive care fighting the Covid-19 crisis.
Lisa Boyle spent three months at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds as one of the team dealing with critically ill people suffering from coronavirus.
She was working as a member of the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) aftercare team when, as the pandemic took hold, the call went out from the NHS in March for experienced nurses to help.
Lisa is a former intensive care nurse and matron in the NHS. After starting nursing in 1991 she worked in intensive care at West Suffolk Hospital from 1995 for more than a decade before joining EAAA where she works as its aftercare practitioner for Suffolk.
Together with EAAA colleagues Georgie Sellick and Sue Gee, she volunteered and from March until the end of June was in the thick of the fight against the virus.
“I had a lot of updating to do very quickly and then it was straight into it, and you really hit the ground running,” she said.
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“Working in intensive care it was full on. You were in full PPE - tight face mask, gown, double-gloved, everything.
“It was physically demanding as it was so hot and claustrophobic.
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“You also lose your sense of touch. When you’re holding someone’s hand you’re really aware that you are wearing gloves. You feel distanced, there’s a barrier emotionally and physically, working in those conditions was really hard.”
Lisa said she was struck by just how poorly were the patients she was treating.
“They were critically ill. They were needing full ventilator respiratory support and many of them went on to need further support for their cardio-vascular system or their kidneys because a lot of patients had multi-organ failure with COVID-19, It’s an awful disease,” she said.
And there was tragedy as patients succumbed. Between the time the crisis was declared until July 13, there were 254 cases of coronavirus admitted to the hospital - 137 people recovered, but 79 did not.
“If you were to ask me what my biggest memory of it all would be, it would be sitting with someone holding their hand while they were dying,” Lisa said.
“Many cases stand out and I think the hardest thing was these people not being able to have their families visit them.
“You were the last person with that patient, you were there in their last minutes sitting and holding their hand. I did that on more than one occasion and it stays with you. Yeah, it does.
“You could never imagine not having your family there, and yet that was the case for these poor people. It was very, very distressing.”
Despite the intensity of the three months she was there Lisa was full of praise for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and the people she worked with.
“Supplies of PPE were brilliant for us, we had everything that we needed in intensive care,” she said.
“And as hard as it was, we were able to cope. We never got to the point where we thought ‘We can’t do this’. It would have been easy to let yourself get overwhelmed but we knew the system was in place and we were going to cope.”
Lisa, who lives with husband Nick in Great Ashfield, is now back in her old job with EAAA but also working as a bank nurse for West Suffolk.
“I’m back in my after-care role with the air ambulance working two days a week. It’s a charity, we rely so much on donations for funding and I’d really urge people to carry on raising money for it and not be put off by coronavirus. It is such an important service in this area,” she said.
“But my learning curve was huge and because I feel I can help I’ve decided to stay on and work on the bank to support as and when I can and when they need me.”
Lisa feels that her time on the Covid-19 frontline has changed her.
“For me personally I think it has made me stronger. To go back after all that time and know that I was able to do it, that I have helped people and that I coped with it, yeah, that makes me feel strong.
“I’ve had years of working in critical care and and I’ve been in some really tragic situations with families before, but this was so different.
“The cameraderie, the team spirit and the support everybody felt nationwide - it wasn’t just you working in intensive care, it felt like the whole country was working with you.
“Everyone was working to a common goal. We were all out of our comfort zone as there were so many people who had come to help. We all helped each other and we got through it together. There was a real sense of that, you were never working on your own.”