(Disclaimer: The words below are my own and reflect only my views and experiences as an ICU nurse. My intention is solely to express my lived experiences thus far throughout this pandemic; my intention is not to speak on behalf of the hospital at which I am employed, nor is my intent to misrepresent the experiences of other nurses. I speak only for myself, and I can only hope others will resonate with my words.)


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Yesterday, I wrote a list. 

I checked it 

I checked it again

And then I checked that I had emailed it to the executors of my Will.

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I am 40 years old. I am currently an ICU nurse in a City. At the moment my health is good apart from a few small issues so I should have no reason to even think about my will. Yesterday, I resigned myself to the fact that the likelihood of dying is statistically more plausible than I had previously imagined.

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When I graduated from nursing school in 2005, I never thought this would be my future with fifteen years of experience, I had settled into the relative normalcy of Monday-Friday. Having left the controlled-craziness of a busy ICU after 8 years, I had become comfortable with knowing exactly where I would be working and the team I would be working with. 

Then the pandemic came and my normalcy was turned on it’s head. 


I thought I was prepared to see death; I had seen enough of it in my time as an ICU Nurse. It’s something you never forget, whether it’s an unexpected cardiac arrest or a gradual decline the memories stay with you but now, I am not so sure if death is something I am prepared for at all.

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This is different. Death could pick me.

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Last week, I was assigned to work in COVID-ICU.

And as I walked onto the unit, I realised how unprepared I was. The sight of patients, attached to monitors, IVs, ventilators and filters. Proned on their fronts, their eyes covered with protective cotton swabs. 


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I remember my first shift on ICU, my mentor gave me one piece of advice that has stayed with me;

“In amongst all the tubes and wires, the acronyms and numbers lays a patient. Never forget that.”

I haven’t.

Every patient has someone who loves them; They are our responsibility too.


I struggle to focus, my mask tight around my nose and mouth constricts my breathing, a trickle of sweat forming under the multiple layers of PPE. 

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We do our best, so How do I apologize for not being enough?

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We are told that we are on the frontline, but the truth is, We are the final recourse. In reality, I am one of last people you want to see, because after us is death. 

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ICU nurses are trained to be precise: we medicate, we titrate, we sedate, we paralyze, we help intubate. We wash your body, clothe you, feed you, and make you comfortable. We enter that room more than anyone else. People have lauded me as a hero, a superhero to some, an angel even - that I am brave and courageous, that my patients are lucky to have me. Most days, I feel far from that. Now more than ever, I feel weak and inept. I am lucky if I even have time to put ointment on your chapped lips as you lay comatose, moments before I FaceTime your family and they see you for the first time since leaving for the hospital, breathing tube now in your mouth, feeding tube plunging into your nose, a slight drool, and maybe some blood here and there that I just can’t seem to stifle. And who am I to steal that sacred moment away from you and your family? Who am I to be privy to the sanctity of that final reunion? It feels wrong.

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But I stand there nonetheless, stricken with shame and bereft of energy, because I am the only link you have to your family in this moment.

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Even when I leave the hospital, I can't escape this plague. The Coronavirus follows me home literally and metaphorically. It's on the soles of my shoes, on my clothes as I strip bare at the door, and on my hands as I scrub them red and raw to rid myself of the feelings of filth and decay.

It’s in my aching arms as I hold my daughter tightly. 


On my off days, I spend hours reading articles, new studies released about side effects of this repurposed medication, benefits of this new trial; the plethora of information is interminable and overwhelming. Yet, I walk in to work feeling like I still don’t know enough about this disease, and every day, I leave work feeling like I failed, like I could have done so much more. It never feels like enough. I don't feel like I am nearly enough.

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That is why I tell people to not call me a hero. To me, it feels like a lie. I am a disgrace.


This isn’t the world of healthcare I expected to enter; none of us did. I studied to save lives. I signed up to care for the sick and dying, and yes, I acknowledge that this is all at the risk of my own health. But, do not miscontrue my choice of profession for a diminished sense of self-worth; I did not sign up to die. I want the country to know that if I end up on that ICU bed, it is because I was not given enough PPE to protect me. I want the country to know that this government has failed its people, most especially those it deems “essential” - that, I truly believe. 

We claim to be one of the richest economies in the world- that no one else compares to us. So, why is it that when my shift ends, I peel off the same FFP3 mask that I have worn for 4+ hours straight? I have breathed in stale air all day on a unit rife with the dying, and at the end of those twelve hours, I flinch and scour my unprotected neck with an antibacterial wipe, hoping that the blue disposable surgical gown I wear as “protection” did just enough to stop the virus from seeping into my scrubs and settling under my skin. 

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Until there is a cure or a treatment, people will continue to die indiscriminately from this disease. Even after social isolation measures are lifted, everyone will still be at risk. Even after a peak, there will still be a plateau and a downhill journey, and people will continue to die even as we flatten the curve. For a long, long time, the ICUs will still be overwhelmed and the Emergency Departments filled beyond capacity. I want people to know that healthcare in the UK is broken. 

We did not prepare enough

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I believe this pandemic is so poignantly and painfully demonstrating the faults of our system. 

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I am still young, I have a daughter who I want to see graduate, I want to see her grow into the happy, vibrant woman I know she will become and I hope to have a full life ahead of me. 

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So, I ask that you do not pity me, that you do not call me a hero. I do not wish to be made into a martyr. All I ask is that, after all this is over, that you never forget what it was like to be trapped in your home under quarantine. I ask you to never forget the morgue ice trucks, the absurd lack of toilet paper, and the frantic scramble for masks. I want you to remember the fear that gripped your body when someone coughed beside you or when you got that phone call from your loved one saying they had spiked a fever.

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Clap for me and other healthcare workers at eight o’clock if it makes this pandemic feel more bearable. I concede, your cheers help us trudge on. Just know that cheers and hollering don’t change the outcome. This is my fervent plea - that we change what we can after all this is over. 

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This should never happen again.