July 29, 2020

ICU looking after patients and each other

With the first mention of the new virus, our Intensive Care Unit was preparing and planning for all the ‘what if’ situations and increased patient numbers and activity.

Narkitaa Van Ekeren, ICU Nurse Unit Manager, said the ICU team was also working closely with other departments on upskilling and training staff for the intensive care environments, while living our value Safe.

“We knew that should demand require the expansion of ICU beyond our walls, we can’t do that alone and that it needs to be an organisational approach,” she said.

All this planning has helped the ICU set up for the current situation, where there are active COVID-19 cases requiring ICU specialist services.

“These patients do take time to get better, which has impacted on the overall operations of ICU. We still have other critically unwell patients coming into ICU, which are not COVID-19 related. We have recently increased bed capacity, to be able to meet the demand,” she explained.

To be able to safely care for patients, and look after each other, the staff have received refresher PPE training, knowing they would be the ones caring for the most critically unwell COVID-19 patients. Over time, initial apprehension was replaced by the team supporting and encouraging each other.

The changes in their everyday work have also changed how the team decompresses after a busy day and how they distress.

“Usually, we would go out, debrief, share a dinner, or get together in the tea room. The current situation has provided some challenges as we haven’t been able to do that. Now, we have a ‘thank you board’ in the tea room where people can put post-it notes and write what we are grateful for. It’s easy to get caught in work and forget to take some self-care time,” Narkitaa explained.

Besides fighting coronavirus, the patients in ICU are also fighting to cope with isolation and distance from their families, and our dedicated staff are doing all they can to help on both fronts.

“For the patients, the hardest part is not being able to have families present in the unit and staff have been actively engaged in communicating to families and patients that are awake. We are using Facetime and it provides some comfort to patients. Two weeks ago we even had a priest come in, as the family wanted a prayer to be said. As he wasn’t allowed in the room, we had to get creative on how he would deliver the prayer and we eventually came up with a solution with putting phones on speakers,” she explained.

Even on a regular, non-pandemic day, the ICU is a very busy environment. The team is used to seeing patients at their most unwell, but the new situation for the team in this pandemic is the sheer volume of patients requiring isolation and contact precautions. That is when safety comes first and the team has implemented different care models to keep both the staff and patients safe.

To Narkitaa, living the value Safe means having peripheral vision and always looking after your buddies next to you.

“It’s about having open conversations, calling out potential risks and highlighting safety measures,” she said.

Narkitaa proudly speaks of her team and how they are quickly adapting to numerous, daily changes.

“The staff are picking up extra shifts and are all ringing in to see if we need them and if there is something they can do. People have come off their annual leave and long service leave to support the increasing demand,” she said.

“Being an ICU NUM in a pandemic, and a NUM for the first time, has been a little daunting, but I have a great team to support me along the way,” she said.