A burnt-out Covid ICU Nurse in Melbourne speaks out after almost a week straight of night shifts. She has asked to remain anonymous.

I’m still a relatively junior nurse.

I don’t think the general population actually understand what it’s like to care for someone with COVID in the ICU and the immense toll it’s taking on myself, my colleagues and the hospitals in general. I think we need to start talking about it and raising awareness.  

I think the main thing I’d like to stress, is the weight of care these patients require and it doesn’t end when you hand over. The nurses, doctors, the PCAs and even the ward clerks working on these wards put their own health and the health of their families at risk. Even going to the supermarket or putting fuel in the car weighs on your mind, as we’re constantly thinking if I test positive, who am I currently infecting?

I don’t know anyone that can simply have a “normal” day off. We’re all mostly isolating at home for fear of further infecting the community/the people we love. A standard 12 hour shift stretches out to 13-14 hours in the covid ICU. The extra hours are unpaid, and it’s completely exhausting. There’s true selflessness in this work, and even then, the resources are dwindling. I can honestly say that my empathy has been worn down, and that impacts you as a professional. 

It’s really hard when we’re continually looking after patients who don’t support us. It’s hard not to take it personally when the people we’re looking after refuse to wear masks/wear masks properly, refuse to abide by lockdown rules and refuse to get vaccinated when I as a nurse (simply going to work and doing my job) don’t get to refuse to look after these patients.

It feels worse this year in comparison to last year, because there is knowledge about the virus and measures available to prevent getting sick and endowing up tubed in ICU – but people are just ignoring it. 

If I had known going into nursing, that I was taking a job with an incredible stress load under conditions where going to work everyday might make myself or my family sick, I probably would have reconsidered. 

I’ve taken abuse from both patients and their families who don’t think this virus exists, who can’t see their critically ill loved one, and still refuse to abide by health advice (I’ve seen covid + family members attempt to enter the hospital to visit their covid + loved one).

I’ve also watched relatively healthy young people die.

It’s also a bit frustrating when patients refuse to participate in the research studies we are trying to conduct on COVID. That despite their illness, and the weight of the care they require, they could contribute to the greater breadth of medical science so we can learn how to treat this illness better in the future. But again they refuse. 

Now, do I sound burnt out? Yep. I sure do. Should I take some time off? Yes, absolutely. Except there’s no staff. If I take any time off, it stresses a system that’s already beyond stretched and I know the impact that has on my colleagues and the patients. I still feel a strong sense of duty to my ICU, and recognise that we’re a team pulling together through this. However, this sense too is wearing off for some of my colleagues. 

The scary thing is, we feel like this and our case numbers aren’t that bad – if you compared to Sydney or overseas. My worst fear is our daily reality – that the numbers are only going to get worse.

I’m not really sure about career highlights. I love being a CCRN, the independence it gives me and trying to solve the puzzles of the different presentations we see. I love that I have a job that challenges me on a daily basis and makes me truly think. I still remember the first time I helped insert a PAC – I probably had a heart rate of 150 myself at the time.

However, by far the most humbling thing I’ve even been a part of in my career is the decision of family members to donate their loved one’s organs. I cry every single time. You always feel close with those families. And I can’t imagine a more honourable and selfless act; these families are thinking of others often in a time of complete unexpected shock and turmoil. I find myself in awe and it feels Ike a privilege to work beside these patients and their family during that tender time.