The Malta Independent 7 May 2021, Friday

‘Without acceptance of the situation, there is no way we will ever get out of it’ – frontliner

Giuseppe Attard Sunday, 7 March 2021, 12:29 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke to front liner and Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) Nursing Officer Tonio Attard, who shared his experiences of the pandemic a year on from Malta's first case.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there were a lot of uncertainties - no one knew how things would pan out and what the repercussions would be.

"We immediately started being very cautious. We started to prepare the ITU because everyone knew that, eventually, a lot of patients were going to become seriously ill with Covid-19," Attard said.

In the CICU a lot of changes had to be made so that, in the eventuality that many Covid-19 patients would need to be admitted to hospital, the logistics would be in place.

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"We had to change things around since these patients had to be kept in complete isolation. We had to change certain systems and protocols we had in place."

These included having proper ventilation in the ward, adding rooms for nurses to put on personal protective equipment (PPE) safely, a place to remove PPE equipment and so on.

"What happened next was that the ward I am in charge of, the CICU, was closed off and the staff were relocated for a while to the general ITU in order for the nurses to get some experience with the ITU staff and be prepared for the inevitable."

They would then split their shifts in order to gain experience with Covid-19 positive patients in the makeshift ITU.

"Learning how to put on and remove protective equipment, what to do before you go home, what to do with your uniform and so on was all part of the experience we were looking to gain."

"The responsibilities grew as well. As charge nurse, I was responsible for ordering the protective equipment as well as all other equipment needed for the patients in order to keep everyone safe."

Eventually, the first wave hit, and patients started to be brought to the ITU in serious to critical condition.

"The problem with Covid-19 patients in ITU is that they do not enter ITU for one to two days - patients stay there for a long time, in most cases more than two months. The problem with this is that with time, complications start to occur, so the work of the nurses is constant and demanding."

Attard then shared his experience of coming home from work to a concerned family.

"Coming home from work was not an easy situation. What Covid changed in the lives of all those who work at hospital is the fact that they always have to be vigilant. When I started working with Covid-19 patients, I had explained the situation to my family and I had to keep in mind, at work, to always stay vigilant in what I do, how I do it and when I do it. I used to wash multiple times at work and change my clothes constantly."

Attard explained that both his personal and work life were changed by this pandemic. "Sometimes, people would avoid me when they saw me walking in the street just because they knew I worked at the hospital."

Attard said that there will always be that level of fear from the general public, especially when they hear that one works at the hospital. "Sometimes I feel that I am safer in hospital than going out and about."

Work life became even more stressful for health care workers when entire shifts had to be placed in quarantine due to exposure to Covid-19 patients.

"This then creates problems for the other shifts and the Nursing Officer has to then ask the other shifts to work overtime in order to cope with the demand. All this was being done while the general ITU was still doing major operations so, apart from sharing shifts and everyone working overtime, we also had to spare personnel so that the ITU could cope."

The situation has greatly improved now that front liners have been given the vaccine, he added.

At the end of the day, a lot of people adapted to the new system we live in.

"Unfortunately, this has become our new reality and without acceptance of the situation there is no way we will ever get out of it."


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