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'My flatmates moved out': Young nurses describe stresses at home over fears about Covid-19

For some nurses, it can be hard to escape talk of the coronavirus – even at home.

Nurses describe the stresses and strains of Covid-19 on family and home life.
Nurses describe the stresses and strains of Covid-19 on family and home life.
Image: Michael Cooper/PA Images

FOR YOUNG NURSES, the pressure of the Covid-19 outbreak follows them home. Even after escaping busy wards, some report awkward questions and growing tensions in their houses.

Several nurses – typically young, either living at home or in shared accommodation – told TheJournal.ie that one of the hidden challenges of the pandemic was an altered home life, with parents, siblings and roommates taking extra and sometimes drastic precautions around them. 

While many nurses praised the support from family and members of the public, others described a home life changed suddenly by them being treated as a potential source of a virus that has already killed thousands of people around the world. 

One third-year student nurse in Dublin is currently working with a nursing agency and based in a city hospital. She said her flatmates had decided to temporarily leave their apartment partially because of her presence.

“It’s an over-reaction,” she says. “I’m not working every day. It’s very lonely.”

She said that one flatmate had been told to go home by their manager one day when it was discovered they lived with a nurse. 

Another male nurse in the west of the country, who didn’t want to give his name, said he was “cornered” by his roommates as he was cooking one evening.

“The first thing they asked me was had I been tested,” he said. “It’s a very tense atmosphere at the minute. You can trace it all back to me being on the wards.”

He called on colleges to make any student accommodation available to nurses who need somewhere to live. 

In countries around the world, healthcare workers have naturally been to the fore in combating and treating the virus. In Ireland, a significant proportion of Covid-19 cases have been health workers. It was confirmed last night that a healthcare worker is one of those with Covid-19 who passed away.

And while so far, there have been many public displays of appreciation – notably members of the public clapping healthcare staff at 8pm on Thursday evening, as screened by RTÉ – privately some younger nurses say recent weeks have brought added scrutiny about where and how they work. 

A spokesperson for the INMO told TheJournal.ie that “it’s an incredibly stressful time for frontline health workers and their families. This is why it’s so important for the public to minimise the risk of transmission”.

“There are two key things that would bring some peace of mind for health workers. First, any tests they do should expedited and given top priority, to ensure they are not affected by Covid-19. Second, they should be provided with the best standard of personal protective equipment, to minimise the risk of infection at work,” the spokesperson said.

Risk and routines

Many of the nurses who spoke to TheJournal.ie acknowledged that they were at higher risk of getting the disease, being in and out of hospitals and wards every day.

But for young workers who don’t own their own home or live in a house or apartment with multiple people, being aware of that fact doesn’t make life easier. 

Some spoke of routines changing. One nurse said she had to send a text to her family when she was coming home to ensure the shower was free, while another spoke of the extra pressure not just be to clean and hygienic, but to show their family that they’re taking those precautions. 

That nurse, who wanted to remain anonymous, was off work because she had been symptomatic for Covid-19. Her father has asthma and she described the fear of bearing responsibility for anyone in her family getting sick

“If I’m bringing something home with me, there’s huge implications for the whole household,” she said.

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“There’s not a huge difference now coming home from the hospital, but there’s more of an awareness that you’re coming home from hospital.”

One young nurse in a Dublin hospital lives at home with her parents and siblings. Normally, she says her sister shares a room with her, but: “For the last two weeks, my sister hasn’t slept in her bed.”

“Everyone jumps if anyone coughs or sneezes,” she said.

And this all has the potential to bring to the surface smaller family rows and arguments that might normally be brushed off.

“A stupid argument can feel like the end of the world,” the nurse said. “Like any family, tensions rise when you’re all in on top of each other.”

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