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#Covid19ResearchVoices: Going back to the frontline

Published: 09 July 2020

Thomas Walters, a Senior Research Nurse from London, describes his experience of going back to ICU and how that’s renewed his appreciation for research. Part of the Covid-19 Research Voices series.
It was when we were notified that all studies were to be suspended that it dawned on me that things were changing, and changing fast.  
Initially we were working to see which research projects could and should continue despite the pandemic, working closely with Principal Investigators, the Trust, and each other.  At the back of our minds was the realisation that we as nurses would need to do something more beyond research given the scale of the outbreak. Some I could see were scared, others were confused, but I remained positive that things will improve over time.
I thought that being cocooned in research was the cause of my optimism, but even as I volunteered to be deployed to ICU and being faced with the worst this virus can do, and the risks that healthcare professionals take on the front line, I still felt optimistic. I did not care so much for my safety, but more for the safety of my staff, my colleagues, family, friends, and the patients.
I was an experienced ICU nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ before moving to research where I have been for the last eight years, yet returning to critical care, I found that I actually had not lost any of the skills I trained years to attain.  Of course I was rusty but all the machines, drugs, equipment, and general practice were unchanged.  
The fear of managing an unstable level 3 patient remained, but that was part and parcel of an ICU nurse.  Focus, priority, communication, and safety was key.  The only differences now were the 15 minutes of donning Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the lack of experienced ICU nurses, the huge amount of admissions, and the sheer number of critically ill Covid patients that have effectively taken over critical care, with the expansion of ICU to both theatres and renal wards.  Managing one level 3 patient is tough, but due to patient numbers and staff shortages, doubling became the norm.   
Shifts were long, but I did not even realise it as we were so busy.  Facial pressure sores were prevalent in my first week, visors fogging while straining to constantly review monitors, administering intravenous drugs, and dealing with emergencies.  I remember using the telephone operator a lot as there were so many departments I had to contact for urgent blood results, missing results, coordinating units of blood, and doctors, whilst straining to hear through thick masks and hoods.
Working on the front line was tough but I actually felt good after every shift.  I felt important, and knew I did what I could to help and save lives.  
The whole experience reminded me why I chose to be a nurse 18 years ago.  To make a difference to people’s lives, and to effectively save lives.  But without research none of the lifesaving treatments, devices, and clinical practices we have today would be possible.  That was why I chose to leave ICU and go into research.  My experiences during the height of this pandemic has reminded me of that, and has provided me a renewed sense of appreciation for my role as a research nurse.

Thomas Walters, Senior Research Nurse (Renal), Renal Research Office, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

The NIHR has recently developed a ‘Framework for restart’, which is a guidance document to support local decision-making that will enable trusts to determine which paused NIHR research studies may be able to restart.

Read more blogs in our Covid-19 Research Voices series.

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