My COVID experience: Unwitting Warriors

2020 as a third-year student nurse has been a roller coaster, the kind that throws you about, bruises your ears, pretends to stop and then the person controlling it sends you on another relentless loop. Anyone that’s been on the mine train on a quiet day at Alton Towers will understand.

We went into lockdown with some vague rumours that there would be an extended paid placement or early graduation, but nobody really knew and anyone we asked was equally none the wiser. So we sat in limbo knowing only that we weren’t going to finish as normal. Then one day while watching the soap opera that was the Government’s daily update, it was announced that 18,000 third year student nurses were ready to deploy. We weren’t. We were sat on the sofa in our PJs wondering if chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk would meet the tea time nutritional requirements of our children.

So, a few weeks, some rather dodgy TikToks and some hastily scheduled employment checks later we were off out in the wild. Not a nurse or a student but an “Aspirant Nurse”. That title lasted as long as it took us to realise that nobody knew what it was and as we really didn’t know either we just went back to saying “student”.

I was lucky enough to be assigned Braunton ward in the red zone. I say lucky because actually if I’m going to have my life turned upside down by a brand-new disease, I want to meet that disease head on. Plus, I’m also really risk adverse and wanted all the PPE so deemed Braunton to be the safest place in the hospital. Turns out most of Team Covid had similar rationale and I found my people.

Not without some nerves (read “bricking it”) I went for my first shift in “The Red Zone”.  With the first goal of locating the changing room, appropriate size scrubs and making it back to the ward completed (thank you fellow student for showing me) I began to feel a little better.  And so my Covid, not- quite-nursing journey began.

I can honestly say that I’ve never met a more welcoming group of staff. “Are you here for the shift? We’re so pleased to have you.” Was a phrase that was often used, not just for me but for everyone on the team. As a newly formed team I soon found out that people were meeting people for the first time everyday and so it was actually easy to fit in and not be ‘the new girl’, while actually being the new girl. Working in full PPE is an experience. What I hadn’t considered before donning for the first time was that I’m actually quite claustrophobic, so that was an interesting internal chat to myself, thankfully I won that war and didn’t run crying from the ward in fear of someone putting a visor on me. As an aside, I can now go snorkelling because covid PPE cured me of the fear of the mask.  

What also struck me is the levelling capacity of scrubs. Team Covid really was a team, one working towards the same agenda of keeping each other safe and doing the best for our patients. We had roles to fulfil but the hierarchy was essentially gone because everybody’s job was important, they always are, but if you don’t know if you’re talking to consultants or house keeping staff it opens the ground for communication, plus everyone has the same inhospitable working conditions, “It’s too hot” and “I need a wee” being the two most used phrases.

A short blog isn’t enough to express my student experience of Covid. But I’ll finish by saying I’ve made some amazing friends. I’ve had shifts that I’ve laughed until I cried, as well as shifts at the other end of the happiness spectrum. I genuinely can’t think of a better introduction to my nursing career. To my fellow 2020 graduates……we’ve got this.

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