'A baptism of fire' - Newly-qualified nurse recalls working on Covid wards

Roberto Bogyere, registered nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's critical care complex.

Roberto Bogyere, registered nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's critical care complex. - Credit: Roberto Bogyere

A newly-qualified nurse has described the first few months of his career treating critically-ill and dying coronavirus patients as a baptism of fire.

Roberto Bogyere, a registered nurse on the critical care complex at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), started treating patients at the hospital's intensive therapy unit and high dependency unit in May while in his final term at the UEA Nursing School.

He was one of 70 students, out of a cohort of 150, who volunteered to care for the hospital's most ill coronavirus patients and has carried on doing that since qualifying in September.

Mr Bogyere, who grew up in London but now lives in Watton with his fiance, said: "Going in as a student was quite a scary experience. I'm from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, and at the time there were reports that people from that background were more at risk of catching Covid. I had to be brave and I wanted to help out. I went in knowing the risk.

"It was scary putting on the PPE. It was really hot and when you are wearing it, it is hard to breath with your mask on.

"At times you felt like you were just surviving your shift until the next nurse came along."

Shifts were 12.5 hours long but breaks were often cut short due to the high-pressure work situation.

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The nurse, who is in his 20s, added: "There were times when I felt very overwhelmed, especially being new. The workload was very heavy. Most senior nurses were getting overwhelmed and there were quite a few tears.

"It was a baptism of fire qualifying at this time. I'm much stronger at handling stress now than I was before. It was a horrendous time."

Mr Bogyere praised the team of medics he worked with during the pandemic.

"People were very supportive. Everyone bonded together. When you see proper humanity come through like that it is amazing," he added.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. NNUH

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: Nick Butcher

But the nurse, who embarked on nursing training after completing a Biomedical Science degree at Kingston University, said a lot of staff are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder because of the experience of the past year.

The hospital is providing support through mental health guardians, which Mr Bogyere has accessed.

He said: "The first step for me in dealing with the pressure was accepting the situation and thinking I need to go into work and do the best for my patients.

"When I saw young people it was hard because I thought that could be me and If I found a bit of air coming into my mask I got scared but the hardest part  was dealing with the families if someone was not going to make it. You had to contact the families and that was difficult."

The nurse added that after shifts ended it was hard to let go of what he had dealt with that day.

"You come back home and you are thinking about it. You dream about it. When you wake up you feel as though you have already done half a shift," he said.

Infection Control nurse looks out from a Covid-19 recovery ward. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A general picture shows a nurse looking out from a Covid-19 recovery ward. - Credit: PA

Mr Bogyere felt the most intense period during the pandemic for NHS staff was just before Christmas and at the beginning of this year.

He said many caught coronavirus from family members who they met over Christmas.

The keyworker also said it was hard seeing NHS staff contract the virus.

One of those affected included NNUH staff nurse Estrella Catalan, who died on February 5, 2021, after suffering a brain haemorrhage due to Covid-19.

Mr Bogyere was part of the medical team who looked after her before she died in the hospital.

He said the Covid situation at the NNUH had become much calmer since last month and there were no Covid patients on the hospital's intensive treatment unit and high dependency unit.

"I'm very glad I became a nurse, especially going through the coronavirus crisis and coming out the other side. It has made me a better nurse.

"I think the government did handle the crisis well. We have never seen a situation like this before," Mr Bogyere added.

He believed there would be new cases of coronavirus in a third wave but the NHS had learnt a lot in treating it.

But despite that he urged people to be careful and get the vaccine adding: "The vaccine does help reduce transmission of Covid-19. It gives you peace of mind for yourself and family. We should be a lot more cautious when mixing and maintain social distancing. Coronavirus is very real. Irrespective of who you are, you could catch it."


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