Intensive care nurses on the frontline

All efforts are focused on avoiding the disaster that has unfolded in hospitals in Spain and Italy, where thousands of healthcare workers have been infected.

“There is a lot of camaraderie among the staff in general,” Ms Ross said. “Everyone is working together on how we can keep each other safe.”

Masks, goggles, gloves and gowns are meticulously layered to protect against the deadly viral particles that could be spread from patients undergoing intubation, then removed carefully before going home – with the mask coming off last. Hands are washed after each item is taken off.

The most dangerous part of caring for a COVID-19 patient was the process of intubation, Ms Ross said, normally done by a team of anaesthetic nurses and doctors who administer sedation before placing a breathing tube in the airways, to be connected to a ventilator.

A team of intensive care doctors and nurses then takes over the patient’s care, after an ICU nurse helps secure the tube and sets up the ventilator, which pumps air into the patient’s lungs to keep them alive.

“When we’re involved in any of those really high-risk procedures like putting a breathing tube in a patient, we put a couple of extra layers of PPE [personal protective equipment] on,” Ms Ross said. “The nurses will wear an extra big gown, a theatre gown … If you’re not wearing eyeglasses, you actually wear two pairs of goggles – a small plastic pair of goggles first, then a big face shield over the top.”

Everyone is working together on how we can keep each other safe.

ICU nurse Kristy Ross

COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU were very sick, Ms Ross said, with a high viral load that put healthcare workers at increased risk if they were exposed to the infectious particles.

To prevent exposure, nurses wore N95 masks and clamped breathing tubes to stop infected air coming out when they were disconnected from ventilators.

Ms Ross said efforts were being made to conserve protective masks due to concerns about ongoing supply, despite the reassurance of 7 million protective masks being sent to hospitals by the federal government this week.

“There’s just a concern that this pandemic is of a magnitude that no one’s ever seen before,” she said. “There’s obviously a concern that the possibility of running out is always going to be there.”

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