A Scunthorpe nurse who battled Covid-19 has recovered enough to return to the frontline.Sue Snelson, critical care outreach nurse specialist, spent 12 days in Scunthorpe General Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit in April/May, a ward she had managed for over 20 years.
She said: “I was looked after by staff that I had appointed when they first started out so it was very surreal.” She remembers very little of her time in hospital, but knows she was critically ill: “The staff kept a diary which has really helped with my recovery as I didn’t know what had happened to me. At one point my family were told I was likely to die, but thankfully I turned a corner.”
After four months off work, Sue, who joined the NHS in 1972, is back caring for patients and says it feels amazing: “It’s so good to be back,” she said “everyone has been so supportive and it feels good to be looking after people again. Plus there’s only so much daytime telly you can watch!”
Sue, 64, says although she is feeling better she is still recovering from Coronavirus and still gets short of breath: “The recovery has been very slow and I will always have some shortness of breath as I have scarring on my lungs.”
Sue is working shorter shifts than usual in a phased return as she eases back into work. She explained: “I worked two four hour shifts last week and am doing the same this week. Next week I’ll increase it to six hour shifts but I don’t think I’ll be back to my full working hours for a while. Everyone has been so supportive, I’ve never worked on this type of ward before so it’s all a bit different.”
Sue is currently working on a green ward, rather than in her usual role, which means she only cares for patients who have tested negative for the virus as she explained: “I can’t go back to my role just yet as they just don’t know whether I could catch it again. I love my job though and want to get back to it as soon as I can.”
As part of her recovery Sue is taking part in virtual pulmonary rehabilitation. Originally designed for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients it’s now being prescribed for patients like Sue. “I do 20 minutes a day, five times a week; you wear a virtual reality headset and it’s an animation where you do exercises in a chair; it’s helping with my lung function and building my muscles back up again.”
Sue is also taking part in a clinical trial to help researchers discover more about the virus. The nationwide COVID-19 SIREN (Sarscov2 Immunity and Reinfection Evaluation) study is looking at whether prior infection with SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) protects against future infections with the same virus. As part of the study she’s having blood test and swabs taken every two to four weeks for the next 12 months.
Sue said: “I wanted to do something to help other people and I wanted to give something back for all the wonderful care I’ve received.”
Over time the study will assess whether prior infection (measured through an antibody test) protects against future infection (detection of virus on a swab). It will also allow researchers to better understand the number of healthcare workers infected by COVID and whether there are differences related to age, ethnicity and other factors. By taking both blood and swabs, the study will also measure what proportion of frontline NHS staff have been exposed to the virus.