A dental hygienist tells us what it’s like to work on a COVID ward in a London hospital.
Rahana (left) and Olu, a dental nurse, in Charing Cross Hospital ITU, North Ward
I work as a dental hygienist in Charing Cross hospital, but once COVID struck our day-to-day work was stopped and so I volunteered to be redeployed. I felt that if there was any way I could help, I wanted to try. I’ve now been assisting on a COVID ward part-time for over a month and it’s been more intense than I could have imagined.
Learning on the job
"I support the nurse in logging vital signs hourly, checking the operation of the ventilators and dialysis machines, and in cleaning and turning the patients."
When treating COVID patients, the ITU nurses need two different kinds of assistance. Outside the wards, they need runners to fetch equipment, drugs and other supplies. On the wards, they need another pair of eyes. That’s my role. I’m a bed buddy to an ITU nurse. They have a very intense and stressful job, and need to be on high alert at all times. I support the nurse in logging vital signs hourly, checking the operation of the ventilators and dialysis machines, and in cleaning and turning the patients.
It was a steep learning curve. I know a lot about checking the oral health of head and neck cancer patients before radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but I knew very little about how a dialysis machine worked. It’s a high pressure environment too. At first, I felt completely out of my depth.
We were given three hours of training, but it’s very much a case of learning on the job. Thankfully the nurses and doctors were patient with me, which helped me to learn quickly. They were so nice and welcoming, so professional, that it’s made me prouder than ever to work for the NHS. It really does feel as if we’re all in this together.
The impact of working in ITU
This is unlike any other kind of work I’ve done. Seeing people so ill and knowing the best possible care may not save them is really very difficult. After the shift, you get a massive adrenaline crash. I only work part-time for the trust, so my redeployment is part-time too. I think this has probably helped me not to get too overcome by the pressure of the ITU environment.
I’m in awe of the staff who are doing it full-time. Some of them switching between day shifts and night shifts, with children at home and the everyday stuff of life – shopping, cooking and cleaning - still to do. This experience has given me a deep appreciation for the work of nurses in particular, they have very difficult jobs and often they receive very little credit.
Real life doesn’t stop for redeployment
"Before the outbreak, most of my income came from private practice... so it is quite a stressful time for me and my family."
Before the outbreak, most of my income came from private practice. That has disappeared and so it is quite a stressful time for me and my family. When I’m not in the hospital, I spend much of my time chasing HMRC to see if I can get support. But I know how lucky I am that I have some income still coming in from the NHS.
It’s been difficult for my family. We have a COVID room in the back of our house and my partner and young son know to keep away from me until I have properly decontaminated. It’s probably hardest for my mother. She’s in a risk group and so we haven’t seen each other in a long time now. It’s been difficult, but she understands that this is something I feel I need to do.
I chose to work part-time for the NHS after my education at Kings was funded for by the government. It was my way of giving back, but it’s given me a lot too. Like many others, I’ve often thought that if the pay scale were higher, I’d commit more time to NHS work. But right now, that’s a moot point.
For now, I will stay focused on supporting in the COVID ward, be thankful for my wonderful colleagues and hope that we can return to a version of normal life before too long.