Jo Laplana is quitting as an ICU nurse due to PTSD
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A shattered intensive care nurse haunted by the faces of dead Covid victims has told of his heartache at quitting the job he loves.
Jo Laplana “sees” the face of one dying patient every day – unable to erase the memory of his desperate fight for life.
The dedicated nurse cannot walk into his hospital without being overcome by waves of anxiety and panic attacks.
Also etched on his mind are moments like a dying young dad who looks up and begs him: “Please save me.”
Jo, 46, is suffering from PTSD after working on the frontline at Sheffield’s Royal Northern Hospital throughout the first and second waves of the pandemic.
NHS chiefs fear many others may quit after Covid too – leaving the health service under yet more strain.
The trauma has left Jo on the verge of a breakdown, almost ended his marriage and nearly destroyed his relationship with his three stepchildren.
Jo says the memory of one patient has scarred him in particular
He says: “I get panic attacks and I find myself gasping for breath. I’ve tried to carry on working but the only way I will get better is if I leave.
"I’m very sad that I’m having to leave a job I love, but I can’t go on working like this.”
One of his worst flashbacks is of a man the same age as him with no other health problems who died within hours of being put on a ventilator. It was a year ago but Jo, stepdad to two teens and a 10-year-old, cannot erase the memory.
He says: “I see his face at least once a day. He was the first patient I saw die.
“He seemed to be doing well, then suddenly became very ill and we had to ventilate him.
“I got his wife and children on FaceTime and explained what was happening. He begged me not to put him to sleep. I said if I don’t put you to sleep in the next five minutes you will die.
"When his daughter called out, ‘Daddy, I love you,’ that broke my heart.
I had to explain he might die but naively, I thought he was going to pull through. What happened next shocked me.
He didn’t last the day, dying hours later in front of me. Next day I suffered a full-blown panic attack. You learn coping mechanisms for when you lose a patient. It happens quite often.
Jo said seeing several patients a day during the Covid crisis was "unrelenting"
But not in the way it did during Covid. Several patients a day, day after day. It was unrelenting.
“After that man died I saw a psychologist, took a week off but then came back because you feel guilty about taking time off. But the flashbacks still kept coming.
“I became disengaged from the family. I would obsess about work, getting Covid and dying in one of our own ICU beds.
“My wife was threatening divorce and my kids were threatening not to come and see me. They knew I was suffering but they couldn’t cope with me biting their heads off at the slightest opportunity. My wife kept saying, ‘You can’t go on like this’.”
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A study by King’s College London found almost half of ICU staff in England reported symptoms of PTSD, severe depression or anxiety after the first wave last year.
And the Sunday Mirror’s recent poll with Nursing Standard found nearly half of nurses are considering giving up the jobs they used to love.
Jo, who lives in Chesterfield, will now work with children who have learning disabilities.
Jo has been forced to quit his job due to the stress and PTSD of the pandemic
He had worked as an NHS nurse since arriving from Spain in 2000. He has been offered help from the NHS – but after every six sessions with a psychologist, he is signed off and forced to reapply for care under a different person.
He adds: “It’s crazy. No continuity. They don’t swap notes, so each time you start over again.”
Jo is furious at the Government handling of the pandemic, saying: “I was appalled by the decision to ease restrictions at Christmas. We lost four members of the same family who had all been together over Christmas.
“If the PM hadn’t have brought them together they would still be alive.”
Jo’s wife Karen, who teaches arts textiles, says: “I’m praying things get better now he’s no longer working for the NHS. It’s a great shame he’s had to give up nursing, but you have to look after yourself.”
Labour wants a new Care for Carers package including a national 24-7 hotline, and specialised PTSD support.
Jo says he is furious at the way the pandemic has been handled by the Government
Shadow minister for mental health Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said: “Without access to tailored mental health support, staff will continue to suffer.”
Prerana Issar, Chief People Officer for the NHS, said: “It is absolutely right staff are well supported and cared for which is why there is help and advice available, backed by an additional £15million investment in mental health hubs.
“I would encourage anyone who is struggling to access this support.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said there were record numbers of doctors and nurses working in England, with 5,600 more doctors and over 10,800 more nurses compared to last year.