As the pandemic took hold, he stepped up to be redeployed and return to the hospital ward he had led for six years. But within a week of starting back at Oxford’s City Community Hospital, Jonathan Nolan fell ill.
Tests revealed he had Coronavirus. The ward manager hadn’t felt ‘so poorly’ for years, yet his first reaction was feely guilty for being away when the team needed him most.
He had a raging temperature but no cough, and the virus left him feeling wiped out for many days. But as soon as he was virus free and medically fit to return to duties he was back – leading the team of nurses, therapists and support staff at the Fulbrook Centre site.
“It’s good to be back with the patients and the team and to be able to make that difference,” says Jonathan, who has been a quality and clinical standards manager at Oxford Health since he switched from his previous City Comm role two years ago.
Recalling his personal battle in the ‘early days’ of Coronavirus in mid-March, he said: “I got up in the morning and had a rawness in my stomach but didn’t think anything of it. I went to work and felt ok, but by the afternoon I started to feel quite odd and warm. I took my temperature and it was 39.”
“This was the early days when information and guidance about the symptoms, testing, isolation, social distancing and PPE was being written and constantly updated. I don’t think we as a country understood how quickly it was going to hit us.”
Even though Jonathan was unwell and isolating from his wife and two children, he was still managing to do some work from home.
Oxford Health’s occupational health team was in immediate contact and tested him.
“Two days later, on March 24, our clinical director Pete McGrane called me and told me I had got the virus,” Jonathan says. “And he called again over the weekend to ask how I was doing. I was really quite touched by that.”
Reflecting on his experience, he says: “I haven’t been quite so poorly for many years. I had a high temperature for about a week, and the following week I felt very tired,” he says.
“Amazingly, my wife and children did not get it,” Jonathan says. “I isolated in the bedroom, and it was a very lonely experience. I feel for those who are vulnerable and at high risk who have had to isolate for 12 weeks or even longer.”
“With hindsight I think I went back to work a bit too early. It was my choice, but it left me feeling very worn out. But I felt guilty for being away when everyone was playing catch-up and guidance was being written and plans being made. My responsibility is to make sure our team has the correct guidance, understands the regulations and feels supported.”
Jonathan says the first month on the front line was tough. But now he is fully recovered, he says: “We are prepared, but we acknowledge that the pandemic is extremely challenging to everybody – globally, not just us locally.
“People can be frightened and anxious, and when you see reports of front-line staff becoming unwell and dying, you are forced to consider your own vulnerability. As a nurse you understand the risk, but we have PPE, training and follow stringent infection control procedures.”
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a whole new set of challenges to everyday working.
“Take communication: because we wear face masks, people can’t lip-read. You need to take your time in listening and talking and project your voice,” Jonathan says.
All the trust wards and sites have a no visitor policy, but the human desire, indeed need, to keep in touch with loved ones cannot be denied. Staff have had to innovate.
“We helped one older lady communicate with her husband through the window when he was quite unwell. We needed to be able to show that we are doing all we can to make him more comfortable, and that he was not in pain,” Jonathan explains.
But when people say that ‘coronavirus has changed everything’, Jonathan doesn’t agree.
“Fundamentally the ward has always been here to do the best for our patients. That hasn’t changed – it’s the circumstances how we do it that has changed.”