An ICU Nurse at New Year

Carly McKeown

“When the person you never want to see becomes the person you need the most” 

Carly McKeown is a nurse who spent the New Year working in a north London intensive care unit. She writes about the conflicts in the thoughts she has had about the lockdown and what she has experienced.

This New Year, I spent my nights caring for Covid positive patients on a North London intensive care unit. I was asked by an overwhelmed, despairing and struggling critical care unit to offer any help I could with what is becoming an unbearable and deeply grave situation.

Over the last 10 months, I had become increasingly conflicted about the balance between draconian lockdowns and protecting our most precious national resource. Although I fundamentally hold values of health and sacrifice for the greater good, my attention turned to an ailing economy and very bleak outcomes for our mental health. I felt increasingly resentful as the ripples of lockdown pervaded. When Boris Johnson announced Christmas restrictions, I thought he was cruel at worst, a clown at best.

It is easy to grow resentful towards the barrage of restrictions, rules and changes to our civil liberties as I had. In fact it is very understandable. We are a tribal species, it is not in our nature to be isolated and alone.

My experience over the last few nights was quite frankly gut wrenching. I looked at this disease in the eye and what looked back was not a government hoax, or an overstated winter flu. What faced me was bed after bed of ordinary people now at the mercy of a brutal and vicious respiratory disease. At their most vulnerable; dependant on an overstretched, well over capacity, understaffed and chronically underfunded service. Alone and some alert enough for the terror to show through their sedation. Scanning through the admission dates, it was apparent these were the victims of Christmas mixing.

Perhaps my position is of advantage. In that I have witnessed first hand the the grim reality of this infection and vow to protect my family, the people I love and in turn the wider population.

You won’t want to picture your loved ones intubated, alone, terrified and close to death. But ask yourself, if that makes you so uncomfortable, why behave in a way that makes the nightmare a reality?

It is concerning to see the volume of posts on social media and wider afield on radio and in the press, questioning the gravitas of the situation and sincerity of scientists and health care professionals. It serves me no personal purpose to share this.

I don’t work for Pfizer, I don’t sell newspapers and I am not in cahoots with Bill Gates.

What it does serve, is the attempt to inform others from an honest and unbiased position, the consequences of the irresponsible choices you may make in the coming days and weeks. There is no bounty of beds and staff, like most things, the NHS is finite. It is our most prized resource that catches us in our times of most need. When the person you never want to see becomes the person you need the most.

This is not a reprimand or a bigoted opportunity to dictate how others should behave, when I have not walked in their shoes over these lockdowns. I too feel the pang of dread and despair, the resentment, the worry and frustration every time our freedom is chipped away at. It is a veritable and honest account, of how dire the unfolding situation has become, and how life saving every decision you make will be.

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