The Frontline as a Radiographer during COVID-19

I can distinctly recall the date of the first Covid-19 patient that was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny. Ironically, it was on Friday, the 13th March, 2020.

It was so rehearsed, systematic, an ideal scenario in fact – the patient was calmly examined in a dedicated isolation room. ‘Recent travel from China’ read the clinical indications on the X-ray order.

We have come a long way since then. Now we are led by daily algorithms and HPSC updates have dictated new work-flow operational practices for Primary Care centres, ED staff and in turn, radiographers.  

Referral criteria for chest X-rays and CT scans have been modified in line with best international practise. Operational workflow arrangements to deal with both COVID and non-COVID work streams have been organised so that the care streams never meet, in order to minimise infection crossover risk.  

Digital mobile radiography is the new standard to reduce the transfer of infection. Strict infection control measures are adhered to – “donning and doffing” are the new buzz words for radiographers. We have also introduced a Buddy system to minimise cross infection whilst X-raying COVID patients.

Many patients, either intubated or on admission to the Medical Assessment Unit, appear agitated as the infection takes hold. This makes the whole event of performing a mobile X-ray tense as conversation with the patient is limited. These conditions make it difficult to empathise with the patient.

I am a well-seasoned radiographer and I have found it heart-breaking to work in these circumstances, only to find that, in some cases, the patient has unfortunately passed some days later.

I’m now an expert in PPE. I can discern the quality of good PPE from a mile off. I spend much of my day in a whole white body suit that was not so long ago commonplace on media images we saw from Italy and Spain. Where initially there was one patient, now there are often four to five portables to be performed in a COVID ward.

The suits are hot and difficult to move in but a necessary evil. I keep telling myself that I will never take another free dessert from the canteen again, but my willpower is shocking.

It has been six life-changing weeks since the crisis took hold and there is no sign of it abating any time soon. My physical and mental well-being is tested on every shift. Equally though, valuable lessons have been learned and strong work friendships formed in the face of hourly adversity and crisis.

There have been many days and nights since this crisis started that I have questioned why I ever become a Radiographer. I lost a good friend just last week and discovered this awful news by casually looking up RIP.ie whilst I was on call.

I was not able to attend her funeral or pass my condolences to her family. There is no longer a vent to express the normal phases of grief. I have lost work colleagues and the realisation that I too may succumb to COVID 19 is never far from my mind.

I am not a great cook or champion organiser but since the crisis has begun, Nigella, Kevin Dundun and Nevin Maguire are strewn across the kitchen table. Blobs of flour and egg shells mark my attempts at becoming the next Nigella.

My teenage children can sleep for Ireland but they have, on a couple of occasions, acknowledged what I do for them on the frontline … and that has brought a tear to my eye. I realise I am a radiographer because I worked hard to be one and that example is what I want to impart onto them.

The weeks do pass and I have a diary noting the dates that Occupational Health have phoned to say I was either a close or casual contact. Little else goes into it. My social diary is clear. However, the weather outside is getting better and with that brings hope …

This blog was written by Kate Murphy, Radiation Protection Officer, St. Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny with support from all the Radiography team in St. Luke’s Hospital.

One thought on “The Frontline as a Radiographer during COVID-19

  1. Excellent account of the lived experience on the frontline and the impact of Covid-19 on staff and patients. Well done Kate, we need to understand this. Wishing you, your colleagues and your families well during these challenging times. Stay safe.

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