2 Feb 2021

I’ve been redeployed recently to work in the biggest intensive care unit (ICU) I’ve ever seen. The second wave of infections, with the significantly more contagious virus variant(s), have filled the hospitals completely. Nearly all other healthcare work has stopped.  

I’ve seen some comments wishing me well and I appreciate them. With this second wave re-deployment appears to be rotational and of relatively short duration. My stint is probably over as I write this. This actually seems to have been a lesson learned from the first wave.  

I’m coping fairly well, but other people are finding it harder. Here are some reasons why that might be.  

I was working with a colleague earlier this week and saw he was emotionally affected much more than I. His patients really mattered to him and I think he was finding it difficult to realise there is only so much you can do. It mattered to him that people he worked so hard with to keep alive would die. It's not personal.

ICU has two levels of reality: the humanity, the very sick people with their little pictures of being well and normal taped in clear plastic wallets to the machines. They are so much younger than in the first wave. They’re mostly 40-60s. They’re ventilated so you only “meet” their former self, the one they lived all their life, in their notes. It’s in the stories of admission to hospital with the little vignettes of their normal life slipping away as Covid-19 took over their body. I only get to work with their Covid self. For me, this is a technical job not a personal one. There’s a second level of reality which is conveyed by the data from the monitoring equipment. I find the later very calming; I’m comfortable working at the level of data it doesn’t upset me emotionally. So I’m okay.  

What’s working on ICU like? Tiring! All my colleagues are 20-30 years younger. The PPE is many layers: clogs, scrubs, gown, cap, mask, visor, and your gown (which itself is tied on) is topped off with a plastic gown. You sweat like that for four hours, have 30 minutes tea break, then do it all again. The FFP3 mask is no flimsy thing either; my model is semi-rigid and is clamped tightly to your face. However, I know that I tolerate physical discomfort fairly well, so I’m okay.

The biggest change for me has been noticing the appearance of Hostility in my daily scores. I am seldom angry any more but I have felt impotent fury when I heard the decision to delay the second dose of vaccine for people in the UK. I’m still angry about this now as I write.  

In summary: working in ICU has been okay. I don’t mind uncomfortable physical work. I find something calming being in an environment of relevant data which help you understand a problem and manipulate and predict an outcome. But sometimes the outcome is beyond what anyone can manipulate.  


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