Danish frontline nurses share their stories during COVID-19

Submitted by Danish Nurses' Organization
May 6, 2020
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On February 27, the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Denmark. The number rapidly increased and Wednesday 11 March the Danish Government announced lockdown measures. This is a historic event.

The Danish Nurses’ Organization found it important to document, how it would change nursing and the nurses’ working conditions. Nurses are in the front line during this outbreak and as their professional organization and union we must support the nurses and share their voice throughout this crisis.

Since we couldn’t meet with them in person or take pictures, we decided to ask them to write to us and send photos. In most cases we called the members and interviewed them but wrote the story as a long quote. We have used the stories in shorter or longer versions on Facebook, Instagram, newsletters and magazines.

We’ve been reporting almost every day since March on social media and we believe it brings the nurses together. Nurses share, like and support each other with comments. The stories serve many purposes as they cover all aspects of nursing – not only the stories of those nurses that are at the very frontline of COVID-19. Furthermore, the stories show the vital role that nurses play for patients and the community.

On the International Nurses Day May 12, the stories will be shared in newspaper ads to tell the public about the extraordinary efforts of nurses and that there is a need to look at the results we get in the society by investing in nurses.

Here you can read 3 stories from the Danish nurses.

GRETHE BENDIXEN – “WE HAVE LEARNED FROM ITALY AND INTRODUCED THE SCHOOL OF UNIFORM”

This is the story Nurse Manager, Grethe Bendixen, at Intensive Care Unit at Bispebjerg Hospital tells us.

“The past few weeks have been about competence development, establishing as many beds as possible and making sure everyone is aware of and is following the hygienic and professional guidelines.

We have established an extra Intensive Care Unit where the recovery room usually is placed. We have gone from 12 intensive care beds to 28. This also means that we see a lot of new and for us unknown staff.

Some of our new colleagues comes from anesthesia and recovery. Thus, we have made team collaboration, where we are working in clusters of four staff members, who together are taking care of four patients. In each team different specialties are represented, and everyone has defined tasks, for an example the intensive care nurse is responsible for the patient rounds.

We have tested different actions and measures, so we know what works. We are glad, that we were able to do this, while we still had the time to adjust and adapt actions,” Grethe Bendixen says.

A number of new clearly defined functions are among the new initiatives at the ward, like the “mixer”, who solely is in the medicine room preparing medicine, and a “runner”, who ensure the nursing and medical supplies are on the shelfs and the runner is always available to the other nurses. “We have spent a lot of time preparing as well as developing competencies. We have received anesthesia equipment such as extra ventilators and have been introduced to them. We have been taught methods of prone positioning. Some patients oxygenate the blood better that way. It is also a method used for the most ill patients in Italy.

One of the experiences, our Italian colleagues have shared with us, is that there is a particularly high risk of infection spreading to staff related to procedures involving intubation or tracheal suction. It has also been observed that you are going to contaminate yourself if you take off your uniform incorrectly. That is why – and it is a HUGE MUST – all employees in our Intensive Care Unit, from cleaning and porters to nurses and doctors, must go through what is called the “school of uniform”.

SISSE KAMPMANN BRUUN – “STRONG COLLEGIAL RELATIONSHIPS ARE ALSO IMPORTANT DURING A TIME OF COVID-19”

“We, surgical nurses, are taking shifts in the COVID departments, and one evening one of my colleagues went home crying.

In the midst of a hodgepodge of fear of infection and a constant feeling of being alert, she felt inadequate because she could not figure out the simplest tasks such as to turn on the bedpan washer” says nurse at the Orthopedic Surgery Center OP, Hvidovre, Sisse Kampmann Bruun.

“I promised her that our next shift together would not be like that. Because on the next shift we would be “conspirators”. The thing is, that it is of great value to know the people you are working together with.

Our normal job is to be surgical nurses. We are not used to turning on a bedpan washer – it was just part of what my colleague needed to talk about after that evening shift, ” Sisse says.

She is also an Occupational Health and Safety Representative, and therefore has a professional knowledge about the importance of bringing the specific working environment issues that arise in the light of the COVID-19 outbreak to a higher organizational level.

“I want to bring it up to management attention, that they have to take social relations as well as the security the social relations provide into consideration when putting teams together.

In the OR the time of corona is frustrating. When we go to work, we do not always know whether we will assist in surgeries or we will be sent to COVID departments. It differs.

When I returned to the OR after Easter, I was met by very concerned colleagues. Because now some of those who have had shifts in the COVID department have become ill with COVID-19 themselves. We don’t know if they were infected during their work in the COVID department, but it’s a frightening possibility, since all the infected colleagues have been working there. As an Occupational Health and Safety Representative, nurse and colleague, it hurts me extremely to witness colleagues breaking down at work.

I feel powerless and would like to be able to do more than talk with them and refer to the Crisis Psychological Clinic’s guideline and psychological counseling.

We are now being tested for antibodies. Hopefully it can help more to sleep a little better”

DALILA BERKANI PEDERSEN – “I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE CARE OF THE VULNARABLE CITIZENS”

The homeless, the mentally ill and those who have a high consumption of medicine and drugs. It is some of the people who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill, if they are infected with coronavirus. And nurse, Dalila Berkani Pedersen, want to take good care of those citizens.

On a daily basis she works in the Sociolance, which is a social ambulance where the staff provides outreach support to the socially marginalized citizens. The sociolance is contacted by calling 112 (the Danish 911) and it responds if a citizen is unable to take care of himself. “It seems like the homeless have disappeared from the streets, and I think this is because new emergency homeless shelters have recently been set up. Shelters have also been established for those suspected of infection. So far, it doesn’t seem that many of the vulnerable citizens are infected, but it is a matter of time.

The vulnerable citizens react very differently to the special situation, where all Danes are isolated and home.

Some people with mental health disorders are very anxious about the infection, and they might not understand all the new guidelines. They need us to take the time to talk with them, explain the situation and calm them down.

Others need us to support them, when they show up at the emergency room, where they are asked to wait outside, because it’s not allowed for too many to be gathered in the waiting room. We can, for example offer a blanket and a motivational conversation, so they can handle the wait in the cold.

Some vulnerable citizens such as addicts are not really aware of the danger of infection, because it is a very small problem compared to the massive problems they otherwise have.

And then there are those, where the isolation due to corona does not result in any change at all. And it is thought-provoking, that some citizens live so isolated, that what others think is an extraordinary situation, for them is a perfectly normal way of life.

We, at the Sociolance, are available if there is a need to test for infection. We know the vulnerable citizens and they feel safe with us.”