Returning to the ICU during the Coronavirus Pandemic: An Interview with Jesper Nilsson, RN

Prior to joining Mallinckrodt, Jesper Nilsson worked as a registered nurse at a public hospital in Stockholm.  There, he worked both in the intensive care unit and later in theapheresis treatment center.  When he heard that some of his former colleagues at the hospital were working multiple 12+ hour shifts per week caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU, he knew he had to help.   He talked with us after his first week back at the hospital.

What prompted your decision to return to the hospital during this crisis?
To be honest, I was reluctant to do it at first.  But, after talking with some of my former colleagues at the hospital, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be sitting at a computer all day.  The hospital added dozens of new beds to the ICU, so I knew staffing would be an issue.  The thought of going back to the ICU was a bit jarring at first, but it was nice to see that I still have the necessary skills and was able to quickly begin treating patients and providing some relief to the staff.

 Do you feel as those you are putting yourself in danger?
Although it’s a bit of a struggle to use all the breathing masks and protective gowning, I feel quite safe.  It almost feels safer being in the hospital than on a bus or on the underground (subway system) because I have the power to protect myself and take proper safety measures. Perhaps it’s a bit naïve to think like this, but the risk of patients not having enough providers to care for them and staff not having enough colleagues to work with is a greater concern to me than my own fears of the virus.

What has the experience been like so far?
Well, I don’t think the situation here in Sweden is as difficult as what we’ve seen in Italy, Spain and the US, but one thing I was surprised about was the age of patients. I thought we would see primarily elderly patients, but we have many patients in their 40s and 50s and some even younger.  

What’s been the most challenging aspect of it?
It’s very difficult to watch the patients in the ICU be isolated from their loved ones.  We extubated a patient a few days ago, and the first thing she asked for was her mother.  We couldn’t bring her mother to her because of the restrictions. It was heart breaking.   

The mental burden of thinking about patients dying in isolation is too heavy for me to focus on, so I try to stay centered on what I can do for them. 

The physical demands of working 12 and a half hour shifts, 4 to 5 days a week is also quite challenging. It’s difficult to work these hours for an extended period of time.  Fortunately, we have enough personal protective equipment for ourselves and, at least for now, we have enough beds and ventilators for our patients, so at least we don’t have those added challenges.

How do you unwind after a long shift at the hospital?
I try to take daily walks in the forest. It’s very relaxing to hear the birds singing instead of the alarms from the ventilators. I have quite a few nature reserves nearby, so it’s easy for me to get out into nature.

How long do you plan to volunteer?
It depends on how the situation evolves, but I imagine I will continue for 4 to 6 weeks.

Do you think this experience will change you?
In some ways, it feels like this is not so out-of-the ordinary to me.  I think I’m doing a good thing, but I don’t necessarily think of it as heroic.  I’m doing what I can, and what I’m trained to do.  Surely, if I have kids someday, I can tell them that this is how I helped out.  I believe in helping society in times of crisis, and this is how I did that.

What is your role at MNK and what message do you want to share with your MNK colleagues?
I joined the company last December as a clinical specialist for the Nordics and the UK. I perform medical device training and on-site education for clinicians at various hospitals throughout the region. Prior to joining Mallinckrodt, I worked first in the ICU setting and then later in an apheresis treatment center, which made for a nice transition to my role as a clinical specialist at MNK. I travel to hospitals to provide on-site training, but have been doing more remote training due to the coronavirus restrictions.

My message for my colleagues is the same message I will share with my kids someday:  Do what you can. Whether it’s keeping in touch with a parent or grandparent or bringing food to an elderly neighbor, take action. Don’t just talk about what you can do or what needs to be done.  Do what you can, where you can.

Jesper, thank you for talking with us.