I was heading into a four-day run of 13-hour shifts. We were past the peak, but still caring for well over 100 ICU patients. In many ways the second surge was just like the first, only more so. We were better organised but there weren’t any more ICU nurses so they were, again, responsible for three or sometimes four critically sick patients instead of their usual one. And the disease itself hadn’t changed; some people still recovered on the tight CPAP masks, others became very sick very quickly and died and many were critically ill and unstable for weeks. One, in particular, was staying with me.
Because more than half of our Covid patients were transferred in from other hospitals, already ventilated, we never typically met them awake, but in mid-January I looked after a woman in her early-70s on CPAP. Six months previously, she’d cycled 20 miles along the Suffolk coast, but she had Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and just before the new year she contracted Covid. She knew that, once ventilated, her chances were not good, so she was determined to do everything possible to avoid it. She understood the situation, and as I worked with her, we connected.
She did everything she could but couldn’t change the trajectory. Two days later, we put her to sleep and took over. Initially she was stable: I spoke to her husband every day and was cautiously optimistic. But then, as so often, this brutal disease took its grip and tore through her body’s defences. On 6 February, she became yet another victim of Covid-19, and it hit me hard. Having learnt from the first wave, a part of me thought that if we just hung in there we’d be able to get more of the patients through this time.