In Conversation with A Lockdown Lifesaver

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Since the start of March 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic has caused chaos and wreaked havoc on all our lives.  For many of us, the stories are all too close to home - we may have lost a loved one, or might have been affected by the virus ourselves. 

Through the turbulence of this past year, the heroes of our NHS have stood shoulder to shoulder with other key workers as the backbone of the nation.  Healthcare professionals have shown enormous dedication, courage and strength during these days.  They have been the steady beating heart nursing the country back to health.

In her regular daily life, Jenny McGuckian is a physiotherapist who specialises in working with children.  During the first peak of the pandemic, Jenny's NHS hospital ward was transformed into an intensive care unit, providing vital care for adults fighting the virus.  Undoubtedly, the work performed by Jenny and her colleagues saved many lives.  Now, with the start of 2021 and the second wave of the Coronavirus,  Jenny finds her ward has been turned into an ICU again caring for even more Covid patients.

As one of my oldest and dearest friends, I wanted to listen to Jenny's story to understand what life has been like for our frontline carers during these challenging times.

Q: Can you give a picture of what things are like for you and your colleagues at the moment? 

A: Our critical care capacity has tripled in size over recent weeks; critical care being those patients who have really high levels of need.  Colleagues have been redeployed from other areas of the hospital to meet the demand of the number of patients coming in.  We all have to wear P.P.E. on a daily basis, for the safety of ourselves and our patients.  As you can imagine,  it gets quite hot in there and it can take its toll when you are on your feet all day.  We've learnt a lot from the first wave, but things still change from day to day and we are constantly adapting to the situation.

Q:  With the second wave of Coronavirus, we've heard how a lot of healthcare professionals are facing burn out.  How do you look after your health and wellbeing?

 A:  Switching off from work isn't always possible, but setting   boundaries is important: when I physically leave work, I decide I am   finished until the next shift.  For me, the things that have got me through  are cooking nice food and planning nice meals for the weekend.  I also make sure I exercise - yoga has been great for clearing my head, and running and cycling have been good when I have needed something more high intensity.  Phoning family and friends, and spending time with my other half have also been really important.

Q:  Healthcare professionals including yourself are seeing and experiencing very difficult situations in hospital at the moment, which must affect you emotionally and mentally.  Do you have any tips for staying mentally strong and resilient during challenging times?

A:  There are lots of things we can't control right now, so focusing on the things you can control helps.  The situation has been changing almost daily, and this was particularly true of the first wave.  It was quite difficult to deal with in the beginning.  Normally, I thrive off structure and routine, but in an ever-changing environment you have to adapt.  I realised the skills I have can be used in different ways.   The constant change built a sense of adaptability and resilience in me, over time.

I also think it's important to bear in mind there are still opportunities in difficult times.  In our hospital, we have had more training opportunties because sessions can be delivered remotely -  I've learnt a lot.  That also builds resilience.

I'd also say, don't underestimate the power of hope.  Watching and being part of the vaccination programme has given our team a boost and a sense of hope.  It was quite emotional to see how far we have come - to get a vaccine produced and rolled out in under a year is pretty amazing, really.

Q: Brighter days are hopefully on the horizon.  What do you plan to do when these challenging days are over?

A:  The first thing is to see the family and have our belated Christmas!  I'm

 looking forward to seeing friends and going on holiday, as well.  There are definitely positives to come out of this past year.  It has given me the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the little things more.  I tend to be the type of person who is normally rushing around and trying to see a million different people and do a million different things whenever I have any time off.  This past year has taught me to look after myself and enjoy the little things.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.  We'll get there and I know we'll be with our loved ones again in the not-too-distant future.