Candid photograph showing the pain and grief of working in critical care goes viral

Posted Thursday, January 28, 2021 10:12 AM

Candid photograph showing the pain and grief of working in critical care goes viral

A photograph shared online this week has provoked a reaction from people around the world, as two exhausted nurses console each other during a shift on the Critical Care Unit at Sherwood Forest Hospitals.

Jill Kirk and Karen Colbeck-Rowe, nurses working on the King’s Mill Hospital Critical Care unit, sought comfort and support from each other and their colleagues following an intensive, tiring and demanding 12 hour shift looking after some of the sickest of patients with COVID-19 in Nottinghamshire.

Jill, experienced Critical Care staff nurse, with over 20 years of experience said: “The photograph captures exactly how I was, and still am, feeling during this pandemic; it shows so many emotions.

“We have been working in this environment for nearly a year. We are exhausted, but that doesn’t mean we will stop caring for people who need us the most.

“Nursing is my passion, but it has been the hardest year in my career, both physically and emotionally. Being, and seeing your friends and colleagues in full PPE for hours, feeling upset, worried, anxious and frightened has made us become closer as a team more than ever.

“During this particular straining and difficult night shift, I needed a hug with someone who understood. I needed a few minutes to recuperate and gather my strength to carry on caring for my patients, and supporting families in such a difficult time.”

Pre-covid, there were nine critical care beds; currently the hospital is nearing three times its capacity. Patients receiving critical care are often on ventilators, unable to move from their beds because they are sedated or do not have enough energy or oxygen to move. Some patients have pre-existing conditions and are elderly, however some, pre-covid, were fit and healthy.

Karen Colbeck-Rowe, Team Coordinator, has been working in the hospital’s Critical Care unit for over 20 years. She said: “This photo encompasses and reflects the united bond we have throughout the nursing profession, and I know it will resonate with many.

“The team work on the Critical Care Unit at King’s Mill Hospital has been emphasised massively, on a scale like no other, over the past 11 months.

“The patients have been the sickest we have cared for on a level never experienced before, with the unit nearing three times over capacity.

“To see the exhaustion, fear and tears in the eyes of my 'work family' as we work tirelessly to give the best care and treatment to the sickest patients, whilst supporting each other, is beyond empowering. The compassion, love and understanding we have for each other keeps us strong through each shift and enables us to keep fighting through the most challenging time of our careers. ‘We will fight through the day and all of the sorrow. The sun sets tonight but will still rise tomorrow.'” 

Holly Beacroft, Nurse at King’s Mill Hospital, took the image after seeing the emotional hold from her colleagues, and knew that it demonstrated exactly how her colleagues at Sherwood, and those in the NHS, and across the globe feel after supporting the COVID-19 response for almost one year. She hopes the image will resonate with members of the public.

She said: “By sharing this image, I hope members of the public and the local community see the hardship, exhaustion and emotion endured by all NHS workers during the pandemic. I urge people to follow the rules around staying home, social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask. These measures are put in place to protect us, your friends and families and the patients we care for.

“Unfortunately, this photograph taken at Sherwood is not unique; there are nurses, health care assistants, doctors, cleaners, porters, administrators, key workers and teachers around the globe, who feel like this every day.

“We will always be here to care for those who need the NHS, but please do not put yourselves, your relatives, friends or my colleagues at any unnecessary risk by not following the rules.”

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