ICU specialist explains importance of ‘claustrophobic’ personal protective equipment

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Intensive care specialist Dr Suzanne Crowe has told of the detailed measures intensive care staff have to take when caring for patients.

Personal protective equipment is “quite heavy and quite warm” and must be changed in between seeing patients, she told Newstalk Breakfast.

“Intensive care units have a buddy system among staff to assist each other in putting on and removing PPE which was vital to avoid cross-contamination between patients and staff,” she said.

Dr Crowe explained that the public might not appreciate the items that have to be worn in intensive care units – they include scrubs, a hat covering hair, a full length heavy vinyl gown that is tied down the back which is heavy and warm.

Staff also have to wear goggles and a full face clear mask similar to that worn by a welder.

All these items have to be removed and disposed of carefully between patients. The garments have to be removed very carefully and staff have to wash their hands after removing each item.

“Taking off the protective gear is quite a laborious process,” said Dr Crowe, “but it was a procedure that intensive care staff had trained for.”

She acknowledged that it was difficult to communicate with the patient, their family and other team members while wearing the PPE and whiteboards are sometimes used for communicating as hearing can be impaired because of the layers of equipment.

“Staff can feel dizzy and claustrophobic in the gear,” she added.

“I worry that we lose human contact, but the patient and staff must be protected.”



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