Allyn Dow is Intensive Care Unit manager in what is reportedly one of the worst hit towns in the UK.
To tackle the crisis the team of 37 was increased to 47 and the unit’s usual six beds has been ‘surged’ to a maximum of 10. Allyn, who has worked on ICU at Furness General for 19 years, says: “It’s about the whole team from domestics to consultants, volunteers bringing deliveries and our amazin stores department who have worked their socks off to make sure we have enough PPE.
“Furness General is very much a hospital where we all know each other and look out for each other. I treat people at work as my second family. We support each other as a team and that’s why it works, and
that’s why we get through it.”
Staff have been working long hours including Allyn who did one gruelling stretch of seven days of 12 to 13 hour shifts. “Working in the PPE we have found extremely hard,” she says. “You get very hot and you can’t have a quick drink to rehydrate yourself. “We are in that for four hours at a time – mask, visor and full gown. The communication is very difficult and you can’t always hear each other.”
Relatives and families are not allowed to visit their loved ones unless they are at the end of life. “It can be quite distressing, because we are not able to support people as we would normally do,” says Allyn. “When it came out in the news that Furness had been hit hard, it was when we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was really hard work, but we had managed – we had enough beds and enough staff to care for those patients.
“One of the things that did shock us as a staffing group – when we first heard about the virus there was a lot of publicity about it affecting people with underlying illness and the elderly and then we discovered that it wasn’t, it was hitting younger people; that was when we had that fear of what was coming. “We have seen some vulnerable people and people who are fit and healthy becoming ill.
“You may think you are young and fit and well, but you are not immune to it.” Allyn says; “One of the hardest parts for me personally is supporting the staff through. They have the same fears that everybody has. They continue to work and want to be protected and it’s trying to allay fears. Nobody knows what the future brings.”
A board full of cards, pictures and messages of thanks has been put up on the unit to help keep staff motivated. And knitted hearts have become a symbol of the kindness that has emerged everywhere, says Allyn. “People have been knitting hearts, and there are patients who sadly didn’t make it; the patient will have a heart in their hand, and if the family are there at end of life they have a heart, or if they can’t be there we save that for them.”
Allyn says: “I have sat with people (at the end). It does get overwhelming at times. But the fact that we are getting through it just reaffirms the humanity and compassion in people. “It’s brought out the best in a lot of people and that makes it easier to do our job.
“Everyone has been doing the utmost in very difficult circumstances and that makes you feel good; it makes the hardship everyone is going through easier.” She says: “The patients we have had on the unit for more than a month, when they get well – it doesn’t make the news – but we do the guard of honour and applaud them off the unit.
“I think basically I have learned that humanity is still there. Everybody has pulled out the stops to make this work. In normal life people can become very self-centred and this has turned that around. We see how much more people do care for each other.”