Nurse manager back on frontline after four-month Covid-19 journey

A critical care nurse who spent almost two weeks in the intensive care unit she runs and four months off work because of her Covid-19 diagnosis has now recovered enough to return to the frontline.

Sue Snelson, a critical care outreach nurse specialist, was in Scunthorpe General Hospital’s intensive care unit for 12 days in April and May with Covid-19.

“Everyone has been so supportive, and it feels good to be looking after people again”

Sue Snelson

As manager of the unit for more than 20 years, Ms Snelson had been looked after by staff she had personally appointed.

Ms Snelson had been critically ill and at one point during her admission her family were told she was likely to die.

After four months off work, Ms Snelson, who joined the NHS in 1972, returned to nursing at the end of August.

She is currently working on a day surgery ward which is specifically for patients who have tested negative for the virus.

“I was looked after by staff that I had appointed when they first started out, so it was very surreal,” Ms Snelson said.

Although she remembers very little of her time in hospital, staff had kept a diary for Ms Snelson which she said had “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,” she added.

On her return to work, it was decided that Ms Snelson would work on a “green” ward, which is for patients who have tested negative for Covid-19, rather than in her usual role in intensive care.

Despite being well enough to return to work, Ms Snelson said she was still recovering from Covid-19 and that she still experienced shortness of breath.

“The recovery has been very slow, and I will always have some shortness of breath as I have scarring on my lungs,” she said.

The plan is for Ms Snelson to return to work through a phased approach, starting on four-hour shifts.

While Ms Snelson is working in a different environment, she said it was “so good to back” nursing again and was looking forward to returning to her normal role as soon as possible.

“Everyone has been so supportive, I’ve never worked on this type of ward before so it’s all a bit different,” she said.

“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, Ms Snelson is taking part in virtual pulmonary rehabilitation.

Sue is pictured with some of her colleagues at Scunthorpe General Hospital

“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,” she said.

“It’s helping with my lung function and building my muscles back up again.”

Ms Snelson is also involved in a clinical trial to help researchers discover more about Covid-19.

The nationwide Covid-19 SIREN (Sarscov2 Immunity and Reinfection Evaluation) study is exploring whether prior infection with the virus that causes Covid-19 protects against future infections.

As part of this, Ms Snelson is having blood test and swabs taken every two to four weeks for the next 12 months.

“I wanted to do something to help other people and I wanted to give something back for all the wonderful care I’ve received,” she said.

Those behind the project say it will also allow researchers to better understand the number of healthcare workers infected by Covid-19 and whether there are differences related to age, ethnicity and other factors.

By taking both blood and swabs, the study will also seek to determine the proportion of frontline NHS staff who have been exposed to the virus.

Image credits: Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust

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