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Covid-19 A Ward Sister’s Story

23 July 2020

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on all of our lives. Many of our beautiful brides have had to make the heart breaking decision to postpone their weddings, and our thoughts go out to each and every one. Some of our brides-to-be are frontline NHS staff (aka heroes), like lovely Alison who is a ward sister at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester. When Alison sent us her story about her Covid-19 experience we wanted to share it with you all. Get the tissues ready!

It started as a storm in a distant place where we could only sense the faintest of winds drifting our way. Within six weeks this storm was to become our entire focus and unearth us from our normal lives.

Alison’s Covid-19 story:

The preparation was starting to build with speed; as images came from Europe of endless beds in a Spanish museum, of army trucks in Italy carrying bodies away from overwhelmed hospitals, and stories of horrendous ethical choices having to be made on a daily basis to rationalise care; we were briefed that this was soon going to be our reality, our hell.

I then began to experience the most amazing, humbling and incredible team work; in my team, in our hospital team and in our Trust as a team. Daily briefings from our Exec team issued details to guide us, central hubs set up immediately to centralise resources, and Senior Command teams appearing on our ward supporting us.

Guidelines changed by the hour which was so stressful to keep on top of but everyone was in the same boat and we simply did our absolute best. Being resourceful became absolutely key. We had to set up as many isolation cubicles as we could for potentially positive and confirmed positive children so we de-commissioned all our outpatient rooms within a day. The playroom was packed up and emptied and set up as a 5 bedded bay ready to receive additional patients. Oxygen and beds came in, toys went into storage and we even found hand bells to use as call bells. I realised we could use my own 2 way radios that I use on the campsite in France with my children so families could call us from their isolation cubicle to the desk. This gave a moment of light humour as children radioed us making up their call signs through the day and night.

The news was coming in of the demand for ventilator spaces for adults. I welcomed the adult ITU team onto our children’s ward to see if we could support this need. Clip boards appeared and oxygen demands calculated. We were able to offer eight adult ventilated bed spaces on the children’s ward if needed. We planned in preparation how we would welcome the adult team onto our children’s ward and how we would best support them.

The pace was intense and the need to reassure staff was huge for me. As the Ward Sister I am in the privileged position of knowing my staff and being their leader. I could see the stress building and so wanted to reassure my team. I drafted an emailed letter to my team, and I checked this letter with a friend in the military who took his soldiers into Afghanistan. I wanted it to echo the rallying nature of a commander taking his troops to war, coupled with understanding and reassurance. I sent the email to my nurses and our Consultants and found I had a flood of lovely emotional responses. I had done the right thing it seemed.

Dear  Team,

I am emailing you as we head into difficult and more uncertain times ahead. I want to reassure you all of how proud I am of every member of the team as we go into the next few weeks.

We know that this pandemic will sadly get worse before it gets better.  For us, this means that we could face increasing uncertainty and situations that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.  We might find ourselves supporting different areas of the hospital and having to leave our comfort zone and step out of our team for a time, we may find ourselves involved in difficult and demanding clinical situations.

In all this, and during every shift you do please remember how fantastic you are, what amazing care you give, and call upon that conviction you have to deliver compassionate care to the patients in your hands, their families and the staff we work with. I draw personal strength from the confidence I have in your individual and collective skills and the dedication you demonstrate on every shift.

Please give time to yourself, as it is going to be hard, unsettling and at times emotional. Allow yourself to know it is okay not to be okay.  Talk to friends, team mates and me. I am here to support you all, and also acknowledge that this will be tough and demanding. I know that you will have both professional concerns and, in some cases, very personal worries.  It’s going to be a scary time, and we should all do our best to recognise that in advance – it will make it just a little easier as the crisis hits harder. 

I will of course be keeping you all up to date with any changes that we need to meet as a team, and in the meantime may I thank you all for being truly fantastic, and it is an honour to be your Sister at a time such as this.



This was unchartered territory for all of us and I was trying to be the best Leader I possibly could.

The backdrop to all this was the National response and the effect this had on our personal lives. Our normality was falling apart and daily we were having to adjust to massive changes for our children, and our lives. Three of my nurses, and myself all had to face our weddings being postponed, GCSE’s cancelled for my son, George, and other staff’s children in the team. Family gatherings cancelled, holidays binned, nurses and consultants with partner’s jobs threatened. The burden was immense and seemed to gather another layer of change and sadness daily. As the Sister I was the one to hear the sadness, the concern and anxiety. I found myself absorbing their sadness and anxiety, but reassured that I must be doing a good job as they shared their stories with me.

I remember as I drove home on Wednesday 18th March after a day where I felt so completely drained emotionally and physically exhausted I just absolutely sobbed. I am not entirely sure how I got home really as I don’t think I could really see the road through my tears. As perhaps is our instinct in times when we are at our limit, I called my mum and sobbed and sobbed. She talked to me as I drove and gave me that wonderfully unique motherly reassurance that I can do this. I was home and Kevin had never seen me so upset, so pale and so drained.

The expected wave of patients continued to gather pace and we braced ourselves for what was to come. We prepared our areas, we communicated with our teams, we ran simulations to check our drills and we were ready.

As we did this, the nation started to clap and on a dark evening on March 26th Kevin and I stood outside to clap our teams with pride.

The wave of noise from our village clapping was amazing and actually quite emotional. We didn’t know this was going to be become a national weekly event with the noise growing greater in villages and towns with pots and pans being added to clapping hands.

I drive to work and pass so many pictures stuck in windows drawn by children thanking the NHS and I feel so touched, so valued and appreciated, but also slightly embarrassed as I am just doing the job I love, have always loved with such a fantastic team.

I stood in the Hospital entrance as the Nation held a minutes’ silence to remember the staff who have died. This was so moving and so surreal. I am used to standing respectfully for our fallen servicemen in November, but not for medical and nursing staff who have died trying to save others.

We continue to go into work as our friends stay at home to protect the NHS, and we are actually so grateful for this bit of normality in our lives, of seeing our work mates, chatting, and laughing at our attempts at home schooling. I set up a team WhatsApp group at the beginning of all of this and it has been so brilliant for team morale and really good fun.

For me, I feel so incredibly proud of my team.

And now as we have just celebrated VE day and all that it ended, and all that the end of the war created for our nation – not least the NHS, I do think we have perhaps begun to value again as a Nation the dedication and amazing nature of NHS staff which I am so proud to be part of and witness every day in my team.

Alison xx

I drive to work and pass so many pictures stuck in windows drawn by children thanking the NHS and I feel so touched, so valued and appreciated, but also slightly embarrassed as I am just doing the job I love, have always loved with such a fantastic team.

Alison and Kevin celebrate what should have been their wedding day

As Alison and Kevin had to postpone their wedding day this year they thought they would celebrate by having a few friends around for socially distanced drinks in the garden.

I just thought I’d drop you a line to say we had ‘our day’ yesterday, we had a few local friends over for drinks in the garden and it was actually lovely.

We loved reading your story Alison! You should be immensely proud of yourself, and your team, for being so resilient, strong and generally amazing!

We can’t wait for the build up to your big day next year and being able to share some images of you in your gorgeous dress! xxx

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