My job

How becoming a vaccinator helped heal me after nursing in ICU during the pandemic

Richly rewarding role in vaccination hub allows me to love nursing again
Covid vaccination being given

Richly rewarding role in vaccination hub allows me to love nursing again after the emotional trauma of returning to practice as an ICU volunteer nurse

In March 2020, I returned to clinical practice after a 25-year break to help out during COVID-19, taking up a volunteer staff nurse post in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey.

I worked in the ICU for four months during the first wave of the pandemic, providing one-to-one care for sick patients. Having spent most of my nursing career in critical care, I initially thought I would carry on working as a bank nurse in ICU once COVID-19 was over.

Richly rewarding role in vaccination hub allows me to love nursing again after the emotional trauma of returning to practice as an ICU volunteer nurse

The role of the vaccinator is about more than simply administering the jab Picture: Alamy

In March 2020, I returned to clinical practice after a 25-year break to help out during COVID-19, taking up a volunteer staff nurse post in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey.

I worked in the ICU for four months during the first wave of the pandemic, providing one-to-one care for sick patients. Having spent most of my nursing career in critical care, I initially thought I would carry on working as a bank nurse in ICU once COVID-19 was over.

How wrong I was. I found my time in ICU harrowing; I had forgotten how difficult it is to look raw sadness in the face each day, and with so much uncertainty around me, I felt helpless.

I enjoyed reassuring patients and making them feel comfortable, but with friends and family unable to visit, I struggled with not having anyone to fill in the gaps about their lives.

‘I became obsessive about hygiene as I carried on worrying I might catch COVID-19 and bring it home to my family’

When I looked at my reflection in the unit windows, seeing myself and others dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE), I looked scared. Others around me looked the same, and we started to confide in each other.

Although I found it tough to ask for help, I accessed the well-being resources at the trust, where a psychologist helped me to understand why I felt this way. We talked about ways to help me cope, and I also spoke at a Schwartz Round about my feelings of being out of control and scared, which was a cathartic process.

Staff working in ICU Picture: Alamy

I realised I could not face returning to ICU

I stayed working on ICU until the last COVID-19 patient left, and it was a real defining moment when we stripped and cleaned the unit. Towards the end of my time there, I completed a week-long critical care course run by the trust to better prepare deployed staff for future pandemics or emergencies, but I started to realise I would not be able to cope with returning to ICU again.

I found it difficult even to walk past the unit entrance, and became obsessive about hygiene as I carried on worrying that I might catch COVID-19 and bring it home to my family. Aware that a second wave had been forecast, I felt guilty about not wanting to go back to ICU. But I still wanted to help, so moved to occupational health, an area I had worked in previously.

A voluntary role that is helping me to heal

The Ashford and St Peter’s trust vaccination hub where the author is a volunteer

I reduced my volunteering to one day a week, which I combined with my role at the General Medical Council. By carrying out COVID swabbing, undertaking contact tracing with staff who had tested positive and administering flu vaccinations, I was still helping, but in a less intense way. Although I was dealing with the fear and anxieties of staff, it felt one step removed and I started to feel less scared.

‘Every vaccination I give helps counteract the feelings of powerlessness and fear I experienced in ICU’

I continued to grapple with the guilt of not going back to ICU, but when vaccinations started in January it made my decision easier – I could still make a difference by getting involved with the programme.

Today, I volunteer at the same hospital vaccination hub and work part-time as a bank staff nurse at a local mass vaccination centre.

The great sense of camaraderie creates a buzz in both centres, which is helping me to heal, and every vaccination I give helps counteract the feelings of powerlessness and fear I experienced in ICU.

Rewarding moments of contact with the public

While working at the hospital vaccination hub, a staff member arrived who I recognised but I wasn’t sure where from. It turned out he had been one of the first COVID-positive patients on ICU, and I had cared for him during his stay. It was such a privilege to talk about his memories and to give him his vaccination.

One older man who came for his vaccination asked me if the centre had a toilet. He went on to explain he was struggling with urgency of micturition, occasional incontinence and was getting up six times a night to pass urine.

We talked about the need to go and see his GP. He was reluctant to make an appointment as he didn’t want to bother them, rationalising that they would be busy during the pandemic. But we discussed the importance of seeking help and the aids he could use at night to make this easier for him.

‘I have come to realise my current role is not just about giving a vaccination and then moving on to the next person, it is about listening to people’s concerns and signposting them to care services’

I was the first health professional he had come into contact with in over a year, and I felt privileged that he felt comfortable enough to speak to me about his concerns and health issues.

When gaining consent for the vaccination, we ask if the person has had COVID-19 in the past four weeks. One lady who arrived for her vaccination was a retail worker and had been in hospital for ten days with the virus. She talked about being taken in an ambulance from her home and saying goodbye to her daughter and husband at their front door.

She said she felt grateful that she was the one who had contracted COVID and not the rest of her family, but sadly her husband was admitted to the same hospital two days later. She cried while telling me she felt guilty as she was sure she had given the virus to him. Although they had both recovered, she had been left with overwhelming tiredness and was not yet back at work.

Why administering this vaccine is a truly multi-dimensional nursing role

I have come to realise that my current role involves many crucial aspects of nursing; it is not just about giving a vaccination and then moving on to the next person, it is about listening to people’s concerns – about COVID and other health issues – and signposting them to well-being and primary care services.

Being involved in the vaccination programme has been a huge healing experience for me, which has restored my love of nursing.


Related articles


Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Standard
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs