26/05/2020 | Press releases

Nurse who returned to front line felt it was her ‘duty during the crisis’

A nurse who moved from her community-based role to work in critical care felt it was her ‘duty during the crisis’ to help look after COVID-19 patients.

Alexis Johnys was working as a senior nurse visiting people in care homes as part of the REACT team (Reactive Emergency Assessment Community Team). The team, which combines clinicians from various parts of healthcare, work together to avoid patients being re-admitted to hospital for care that may be due to a fall, how a wound is healing or for catheter management.

When the request came for NHS staff to join the frontline, Alexis said she “hovered over the mouse”, but wanted to register because of her varied nursing background, which includes working in recovery for the high dependency unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

She said: “The country is in a crisis and I felt I had to go where I was needed. I didn’t think I would be selected but was called and asked to work in the intensive care unit at Ipswich Hospital.

“I was petrified. I’ve worked in the high dependency unit, but this was new.”

Alexis underwent fast-track training – some sessions in her own time – and joined the team in early April. The senior nurse said the training and shadow shifts meant the skills “all came flooding back”.

She added: “It’s been a rollercoaster. Learning about the different modes from the ventilator and making sure the sedation syringes don’t run out, which is really important. I had no idea about ventilation and sedation in critical care (CCU). I also learnt the stages to take in weaning someone off the ventilator, working together with the CCU team.

“I know about airway management, but I had to learn about how to do the deep suctioning as COVID-19 patients can cough quite frequently. My colleagues have been very helpful in giving me fast-track courses.”

It has been an emotional journey for Alexis in many ways too. She said caring for patients who are unable to have visitors and are struggling to speak has been very challenging.

“Many patients struggle to speak, so I’ve learnt how to lip read if they’re able to manage a word or two. I’ve used a picture board at times, so I know if they point to a church they’d like to see a chaplain.” She said.

“We arrange SKYPE calls so the patient and their family can reconnect. It really helps. One patient on a shift the other day settled for the rest of the night after having a call with his daughter. Another relative told me she trusted me to look after husband, which really touched me. I’m a nurse, but I’m also a person with emotions.”

One of the ways Alexis has dealt with her own feelings has been to write a poem about her experience. “I couldn’t sleep after a night shift and decided to get up and write it. It just all poured out. I’ve never written a poem before. I wanted to get across that I’m doing this for the patients.”

The change hasn’t been without personal sacrifices for Alexis though, who made the decision she would need to wean her baby daughter Zara, 14 months, off breastfeeding in order to commit to the critical care role.

The 34-year-old, who is also mum to eight-year-old Anna, said: “I’m up goodness knows how many times a night for Zara, so I had to wean her off breast milk. I thought it might be good timing and it’s worked out really positively. My husband Ben says she doesn’t wake at all when I’m on a night shift!”

Alexis will remain in the role until the end of June, but said she’s aware there may be a second peak, requiring her to return to the ward at Ipswich Hospital, and with such a supportive team she would be happy to.

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