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Michaela: Nursing through COVID-19

Michaela is a nurse living in Switzerland. She works specifically with people who suffer from Dementia: a group she says has been particularly affected by the lockdown. She recognises, “They do not recognise us at all, or they get angry, because they do not see the emotions on our faces. Some of them even stopped talking to us completely.” Naturally, ill staff were unable to attend work, thus resulting in understaffed hospitals. Therefore, the government passed a law stating that, as long as the virus remains rife, employers may ask their staff to work 12 hour shifts, with no limitations on the number of days. Michaela explains, “Of course, our boss tries to not do that to any of us but I have worked about ten 12-hour-shifts the last month because there weren't any other possibilities. It is really exhausting.”


As for working conditions within the hospital, Michaela recalls: “We need to stay in different rooms when we have our breaks and so on. I got bruises on my nose, and behind my ears, because the mask needs to fit really well. Additionally, my glasses also put pressure on that. Our voices are breaking - sometimes I can't get a word out. My breathing volume fell from 7.5l to 5l, that's a difference of 33 percent in just a month.” Initially, when the virus was in its early stages, staff had to wear face masks only when working with vulnerable patients, although, when the lockdown was announced, it became necessary to wear the face coverings "for 8 to 12 hours", including in the staff changing room, as it was impossible to practise social distancing.


Two weeks to the "official outbreak" of COVID-19 in Switzerland, Michaela's brother began displaying symptoms. He returned home from work, where he deals with a lot of international clients, feeling "dizzy" and having "no taste or smell". Two days later, Michaela began experiencing the same symptoms, losing her sense of taste; she recalls "Everything tasted like nothing," even including spicy food. However, Michaela was not tested for the disease, as coronavirus was not believed to be present in Switzerland. Despite this, Michaela remains adamant that there were enough tests, as those that were granted access were swabbed “either directly in the hospital, the nursery homes or the drive-in ambulances.”


Prior to the lockdown, Michaela moved out of her home. The plan was originally to move in with her best friend, who is also a healthcare worker, in July. However, due to having vulnerable family members, they made the decision to move in together on the 26th of March. Both Michaela and her friend recognised that their loved ones were "not taking the whole thing seriously". She recalls, They still met each other in big groups, kissed each other on the cheeks and so on. [My friend and I] both thought that we have a responsibility to our patients, so could not stay with these people." Michaela recalls how friends even laughed at taking such precautions.



Nurses working in Zurich University Hospital, Switzerland


Michaela is also a member of the Scouts. The usual Easter camp has been cancelled, as meetings of over 1000 people have been suspended until October. This is a decision that has left Michaela's heart "bleeding".


As of mid-May, hospitals were beginning to reopen, as operations and non-essential treatment could recommence. People could resume sports training, and restaurants began to serve food once again - although 2 metre social distancing was enforced, while tables were limited to four people. Despite concerns that a second wave would emerge, no such thing seems to have happened, although healthcare workers remain apprehensive. Michaela's hospital planned to grant entry to patients' visitors from the 30th of May, although, at the time of writing, she was unsure as to whether or not face masks would be obligatory.


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