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From career worries to well-being goals: how I survived COVID-19 shielding

A nurse explains how physical activity and colleague support helped her cope with isolation

A nurse explains how physical activity and colleague support helped her cope with isolation

Picture: iStock

I had only just returned to work following surgery on my hand and elbow for arthritis.

After 12 long weeks, the endless days of physio, rehab and just existing were supposed to be behind me. Onwards and upwards, I thought, and getting back to normality was high on my agenda.

From recovering to shielding: how COVID-19 halted my return to work

Three weeks and one day later, COVID-19 took over.

The pandemic was declared on my birthday. A phone call on my day off told me I had to stay home because of my severe asthma and call the occupational health team two

A nurse explains how physical activity and colleague support helped her cope with isolation

Picture: iStock

I had only just returned to work following surgery on my hand and elbow for arthritis.

After 12 long weeks, the endless days of physio, rehab and just existing were supposed to be behind me. Onwards and upwards, I thought, and getting back to normality was high on my agenda.

From recovering to shielding: how COVID-19 halted my return to work

Three weeks and one day later, COVID-19 took over.

The pandemic was declared on my birthday. A phone call on my day off told me I had to stay home because of my severe asthma and call the occupational health team – two weeks off and they would then reassess.

View our COVID-19 resource centre

I became glued to the television every afternoon, waiting with bated breath for updates on the crisis. Little did I know what was to come.

Worry about the effect of shielding on my nursing career

On 23 March at 6:24pm – the same day Boris Johnson announced the UK lockdown in a television address – I received a text telling me I had to shield for a minimum of 12 weeks.

‘I had prepared well to go back – new shoes, a lunchbox and meal plans all at the ready. But then I was told I was high-risk and would have to work from home, which was a bitter blow’

At first, I thought: ‘Easy, I can do this.’ But a few weeks later, and after several letters from my respiratory consultant and my GP, shielding was extended until early July.

I started to worry about my career. Brain fog was setting in and I began reading and re-checking my e-learning to ensure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I visited all the e-learning sites I could find to try to stay focused.

Isolation in the house for a prolonged period takes its toll

A COVID-19 text update Picture: iStock

I tried desperately to stay upbeat, reminding myself that I was doing my bit to protect my colleagues. But the toll of being shut in the house with little to occupy me or motivate me to do anything began to show.

I wasn’t sleeping well, if at all. And the guilt was getting me down. I sent gifts to my team to remind them I was thinking of them. I should have been there, working shoulder to shoulder.

Every ounce of my being was screaming: ‘I’m a nurse – I should be at work.’

My partner was furloughed. He went out daily with the dogs and did the shopping, while I started to feel resentment towards all those who were able to leave their homes.

Anger and frustration followed, directed at my partner. He could do what he wanted but chose to sit on the sofa watching rubbish on television.

Involvement in wider groups can be a light in the darkness

Meanwhile I had one illness after another. I felt out of breath and wheezy all the time. My blood glucose was higher than it had ever been. I was falling deeper into despair and I had the added pressure of knowing that this disease, if I caught it, would alter my life forever. It was scary and the weight piled on, even though I tried to keep active.

A light in the darkness came in the form of an email inviting me to join my trust in a conference call. The feeling of being part of something was so overwhelming I almost cried.

I was told that, if I was sensible, I could go out for an early morning walk. This was a catalyst for me. I began walking with the dog early every day, three to four miles.

I also joined the trust Facebook group for staff who were shielding, so I was no longer alone. I can’t describe the relief I felt to be talking to others about what was happening and for them to truly understand.

Becoming more active and getting ready for the challenges ahead

Then came an email from Asthma UK advertising We Are Undefeatable, a campaign that supports people with long-term conditions to be more active. This catapulted me into the Couch to 5K programme and started my journey towards ensuring I was in the best possible health for my return to work.

I had prepared well to go back – new shoes, a lunchbox and meal plans all at the ready. But then I was told I was still too high-risk and would have to work from home, which was a bitter blow. I was devastated when my manager told me.

Now, though, I’m simply looking forward to the new challenges ahead and to working towards a full return to nursing when my trust says it’s safe for me to do so.

Isolation is a terrible thing. I have experienced that abyss and don’t want to experience it again.

I have since built a virtual friendship base with others from my trust who are shielding and other groups that have come into their own because of COVID-19.

Together we will move past this and develop a stronger sense of unity because we have all suffered in one way or another.

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