Emma Foreman swore she would never work in the emergency department or the intensive care unit. But due to COVID-19, she was redeployed to ICU in 2021 … and immediately found a new passion!
Emma had been working as a registered nurse in Footscray Hospital’s day procedure unit for several years when the pandemic hit. She was at a point in her career where she felt ready to take on a new challenge so when management asked for volunteers to be seconded to other units, she took the plunge.
‘Being one of the more experienced nurses on the ward at that time, I put my hand up – even though throughout my career I have said on multiple occasions that I would never, ever go to ED or ICU.’
‘It’s an incredible journey that I went on. When I started in it, I realised all my assumptions were incorrect.’
She did a day of supernumerary in ICU in 2020 but nothing more came of it. ‘After that first wave we thought we were in the clear,’ she says, ‘but then when the second wave hit I got a very frantic phone call to say “we need you to do another supernumerary day because it’s coming”.’
Soon after, she ‘got a visit from the nurse unit manager of ICU, who said “you start tomorrow”.’
A great challenge
Despite Emma’s previous, lifelong misgivings, she took to work in the ICU like the proverbial duck to water. ‘I absolutely loved the time that I had there,’ she says. She was one of the first non-ICU trained nurses seconded to the unit, and had no experience whatsoever. But the transition, although tricky at the start, wasn’t as traumatising as she’d imagined it would be.
‘Obviously there were teething issues in a field that I’ve never been in,’ she explains. ‘But one of the hardest things, I think, was realising expectations. I don’t think they really had time to identify what they would need from me, so we spent some time trying to figure out exactly what role they wanted me to play.’
As an example, she had been told before the redeployment that she would be looking after the more stable patients who were ready to go to the ward. ‘You won’t have any intubated, unconscious patients,’ she was assured.
‘On my second day, I had an intubated patient! And every day after, probably for about two months, all the patients had COVID and were intubated. So that was probably one of the more challenging things.’
But it was ‘a great challenge’, she says. ‘It ended up being wonderful.’
All up, Emma spent five months seconded to ICU. Then, just as quickly as she was called up, she was sent on her way. ‘I got an email on my one of my night shifts that said “thank you for everything you’ve done; we no longer need you.” As suddenly as I came into ICU, I was gone again.’
Back in the DPU
Emma is now happily back in DPU, where the skills she learned during her redeployment are being put to good use. ‘The difference for me is a 180 from prior and post ICU,’ she says. ‘Now the comfort level I have when patients are intubated during procedures is amazing. And when we’ve got more unstable patients, I no longer require the guidance that I did prior because I’ve got a more acute level of knowledge that I never thought I’d have until much further along in my career. So it’s definitely been very, very beneficial.’
‘I told myself this is how I was going to feel when I started my career, I wouldn’t have believed myself.’
So enthused by her experience is Emma that she now believes something similar should be offered to all nurses. ‘I think it’s unfortunate that experiences like this aren’t provided regularly, as a non-COVID thing,’ she says. ‘I think it’s a big missed opportunity.’
Following her unexpected career detour, Emma now has bigger dreams for her future than she ever imagined pre-pandemic. ‘I’d like to transition back to ICU at some point. Whether my career takes me back there in the next few years or further down the track, I think I’ll definitely end up there eventually.’
Indeed, she says that once she’d settled into ICU, she never wanted to leave ICU. ‘It’s an incredible journey that I went on. When I started in it, I realised all my assumptions were incorrect. And after a few months all the nurses in ICU were joking “oh, Emma’s never going back to DPU.” And I agreed with them!’
Concluding, she says ‘it’s crazy that this is how things have turned out. If I told myself this is how I was going to feel when I started my career, I wouldn’t have believed myself. But now I’m very excited to eventually go back when I’m ready.’