In our third COVID-focused blog this month, Anna Glasgow (Twitter: @anna_glaschu) provides a powerful account of student nurses’ experience at the start of the pandemic in 2020…
I was on my penultimate placement of my nursing degree when the pandemic hit Scotland. It really was like a wave. Working in A&E at the time reminds me of standing on the shore, looking out on the churning and swelling North Sea. My first day saw me under the white lights of triage. “Any recent trips to Wuhan, China?”. We scoffed and rolled our eyes at the absurdity of it all. The ocean grumbled. Week two rushed in and the ocean rumbled on, but my feet stayed dry.
And then, Europe buckled as the wave drove forwards and it wasn’t the North Sea we stood facing, but the English Channel. The border swiftly proved futile against disease.
Our NHS was already stretched and starting to split. Nobody had answered our SOS, sent the manpower and money needed to carry out repairs. Maybe the big red cash bus missed our stop, who knows? We could not restore and bolster. We could not down tools and rest.
It was one eye on the work and the other on the horizon.
Inevitability dawned when we upturned the boxes of PPE, peeling off too-carefully placed stickers to expose their expiry date: 2015.
Then the wave reared. Two cases in Edinburgh.
Suddenly, the medical students we worked alongside were gone, their maroon scrubs vanished off the floor. Their university deemed it too dangerous for them to be on this treacherous seafront for the sake of their clinical training.
I was one of eleven student nurses on placement in that Emergency Department. All unpaid, all supernumerary. Nine of us from the same university that spirited away those medics.
And so, we waited for our life raft.
It never came of course. Maybe our grey tunics made us blend into the wall.
“Student nurses have hours to complete”.
“No FFP3 masks for you guys I’m afraid, you’re not staff”
The wave rose over our heads and swiped the shore from under our feet. We were submerged with the rest of the service, floating in dark, deep water.
It feels like an aquarium attraction; the public watching us in our tank as we perform superhuman tricks to riotous applause. If you really look, we’re all banging on the glass.