Vaccinated nurse tells of 'incredibly stressful' situation

Zoe Coton works as a research nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lyn

Zoe Coton works as a research nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn - Credit: Zoe Coton

A hospital nurse has described the relief of receiving a coronavirus vaccine and lifted the lid on the daily struggles of working through a pandemic.

Zoe Coton, who works as a research nurse at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), in King's Lynn, said she felt "incredibly privileged" to have been administered her first dose of the jab. 

Zoe Coton, a research nurse at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), has received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine

Zoe Coton, a research nurse at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), has received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine - Credit: Zoe Coton

Alongside groups including people aged 80 and above, frontline health and care staff are among those who have been prioritised during the opening weeks of the programme. 

Having been given a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine earlier this month, Miss Coton said there was finally cause for optimism after an unforgiving year.

"It is a relief to be given the opportunity to have the vaccine," she said. "We're incredibly privileged as healthcare professionals to be one of the first to receive it and I'm very grateful for that.

"We still have a long way to go and everyone needs to play their part but, now we have the vaccine available, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel which is reassuring."

Debates surrounding priority groups have been widespread in recent weeks, with some arguing key workers including teachers and police should be bumped up the list. 

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While modest about her own value, Miss Coton said it made sense for hospital staff to be looked after.

"I guess it is important for health and care staff to be amongst some of the first to receive the vaccine," added the 28-year-old.

"We are essentially coming into contact with the majority of the population who do have symptoms. 

"Due to the volume of patients we see - Covid and non-Covid - we are at greater risk of being the ones who could potentially transmit the virus."

Miss Coton's day-to-day focus is the hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) and women and children's division, but her role has "changed dramatically".

Her department was forced to drop its usual trials "overnight", switching instead to urgent public health and coronavirus research.

This became its sole focus, and included training consultants, doctors and nurses to be able to deliver potential treatments for patients with symptoms of Covid-19.

The team also set up and coordinated the 'RECOVERY', a research trial geared towards discovering potential treatments for the virus. 

"We are so proud as a department and hospital to be a part of this trial, which could potentially benefit our patients and the people of West Norfolk," added Miss Coton. 

Zoe Coton, a research nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), has been carrying out urgent research into potential...

Zoe Coton, a research nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), has been carrying out urgent research into potential Covid-19 treatments - Credit: Zoe Coton

The former auxiliary nurse - her first role at QEH - says working through a pandemic cannot possibly be described in a single word.

"Its been an incredibly stressful and worrying time," she added. "Some staff are both physically and mentally exhausted.

"I've worked at the QEH on and off for almost 10 years and the hospital is always busy. It remains incredibly busy, even more so now, but we've just had to manage being busy during Covid-19 in different ways."

QEH, like the majority of hospitals across the nation, has found itself under increasing strain in recent weeks as the second wave of the pandemic worsens. 

During the first wave, no more than 121 people were admitted to QEH suffering with coronavirus at any one time (May 3), but on January there was a new high of 205.

There has, however, been a determination - as staff become more accustomed to an unprecedented situation - to resume important research.

"Its difficult to compare the first and second wave," added Miss Coton. "In a lot of ways, it hasn't stopped for us as a hospital as we've continued to have patients with Covid-19 throughout.

"One of the main differences in my role is that a lot of work stopped during the first wave. During this second wave we've tried to have more of a balance, with some trials staying open."

And despite obvious challenges, Miss Coton believes a palpable sense of togetherness among staff and respect from the public has significantly eased the burden. 

"The community spirit has run through consistently," she said. "The support the hospital has received from the community has been incredible.

"The people of west Norfolk have been so generous given the pressures the hospital has been under, and staff members have been understanding of one another."

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