| 5.2°C Belfast

'Hardest part is calling family of poor patient who has died'... front line nurse on realities of Covid-19 crisis in Northern Ireland


Kerry Gordon at work in her personal protective equipment at Craigavon Area Hospital

Kerry Gordon at work in her personal protective equipment at Craigavon Area Hospital

Kerry Gordon at work in her personal protective equipment at Craigavon Area Hospital

A respiratory nurse on Craigavon Area Hospital's Covid-19 ward has told how ringing bereaved families is the hardest thing she has faced.

Kerry Gordon (30) has worked in the hospital since qualifying as a nurse eight years ago and said the coronavirus pandemic is something she and her colleagues never imagined they would have to go through.

Her working life has changed dramatically from her former routine in the 2 North ward.

Kerry, from Richhill in Co Armagh, has to put on layer upon layer of personal protective equipment (PPE) when she arrives for her 13-hour shift.

As she works in a red zone within the hospital, she must wear a full-body gown, a face mask, a mouth guard and gloves.

She supports new nurses beginning their careers and has to deal with the increased number of patients.


Kerry Gordon

Kerry Gordon

Kerry Gordon

Kerry's personal life has also been affected as she has not been able to see her parents or her boyfriend for the past four weeks.

Her respiratory care work on the Covid-19 ward is "quite similar" to that on 2 North, but with social distancing in place Kerry said it was heartbreaking that patients cannot have their loved ones at their bedsides.

That vital role has been left to nurses and doctors, and Kerry said she and her colleagues are determined to do everything possible to fulfil family requests.

"From a pressure point of view, patients are coming in and requiring so much more ventilatory support," she explained.

"Patients are scared and all they really want is their families and we just try and support them the best we can. We try and be there for them.

"A lot of our staff would have quite a few new-starts so we're trying our best to support them, as the staff are frightened as well.

"It's one of those things we never thought we would have to go through.

"It's learning for us all, really, but my role is to try and support and encourage them to do the best that they can.

"The hardest part is making the phone call to the relatives. We just have to try and be their families for them and do whatever the families want us to do for the patient.

"It's very hard to make that call, and if we can, and we have, we have been able to allow a relative in to see the patient, but it's so dangerous because they're so high risk.

"We just have to reinforce that. At the end of the day they could end up catching the virus and being very unwell themselves. A lot of the time they don't come to the ward. The families understand and they have been very, very good."


Craigavon Area Hospital

Craigavon Area Hospital

Craigavon Area Hospital

Since the coronavirus outbreak healthcare staff in the Covid-19 ward have been trying to keep their day-to-day routine as normal as possible.

Upon arrival at Craigavon Area Hospital Kerry, who usually does day shifts but is now working 13-hour shift patterns, puts on the first layer of PPE in the main corridor as trained staff check their colleagues to make sure the equipment is safely in place. Throughout their shifts the nurses and doctors try their best to take breaks as frequently as possible, as PPE has a lifespan of four hours.

Kerry added that it was important that staff take their breaks, not only for some fresh air, but to keep hydrated - something she said was very hard to do.

Despite ongoing concerns around the availability of PPE here, Kerry said there is plenty of equipment available to staff in Craigavon.

The hospital's Covid-19 ward can hold 35 patients and is currently more than half-full, but Kerry does not know if a surge of patients will come.

For now she and her colleagues are just coping as best as they can. "We are busy because the patients need a lot more attention, but we do have space for more," added Kerry.

"We're just trying to keep the routine the same through personal care and ensuring that the patients are getting adequate meals and things like that.

"We're just trying to keep everything as normal as we can, but it just can get very hard because they are sicker.

"We have had quite a few patients that have needed to go to intensive care, while other patients are going down the palliative route. It's just heartbreaking because they can't have their families with them."

Outside of work Kerry has been trying to do all she can for her parents and vice versa, but her mother suffers from asthma, putting her into the vulnerable category.

Many of her colleagues are in a similar situation and Kerry said staff are scared as they fear they could pass the virus on to at-risk and elderly relatives.

However, she has taken great pride in seeing her neighbours stand on their doorsteps every Thursday evening to applaud NHS staff. "I do love my job and it just makes it so much more worthwhile when you hear people thanking you," she added.

"The neighbours have been fantastic and left flowers and bottles of wine at my doorstep. It's just been so lovely."

Belfast Telegraph