People clapping from balconies and windows – these are images that made the news at the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. But what was meant to be a sign of gratitude for doctors and nurses in the continued work of Corona also caused frustration for many of those involved.

“I know a lot of people cheered from the bottom of their hearts,” intensive care nurse Ricardo Lange said almost two years later in an interview with the German Press Agency. “But not much has changed for us.” Corona acts as a burning glass for Germany’s long-standing severe nursing shortage, which leaves deep chasms in the healthcare system. So deep that Lange published the book “Intensiv – When the state of emergency is the everyday. An emergency call” wrote.

Brandenburger Lange, 40, who lives on the outskirts of Berlin, has become something of a face of precarious working conditions in care during the pandemic. He became known throughout Germany through social media, a column and when he was invited to the federal press conference by the then Minister of Health, Jens Spahn (CDU), l year, to talk about daily life in the hospital. In his book he now writes about what has bothered him since Corona, how he has experienced the care situation for years and what needs to change.

Lack of time and less staff

It’s a simple math: if there aren’t enough staff available, everyone has to do more than is actually reasonable. For intensive care, writes Lange, the growing shortage of staff means that a specialist no longer has to care for two patients at the same time, but rather three, and often even more. The consequences: permanent overwork and a growing gap between the demands of patient care and the reality of the lack of time. Added to this would be insufficient pay and a lack of appreciation.

Lange, who according to his description has worked for a temporary work agency for several years, describes in “Intensive” experiences of about twelve years of daily clinical work. Overwhelming exhaustion to the point of dozing off at a red light on the way home, fear of making mistakes that could mean the difference between life and death. The panic the ICU-trained nurse felt when he was assigned to a pediatric ward due to understaffing and had to take on a non-specialist responsibility he didn’t feel up to seems understandable .

Fight for life until exhaustion

And then there is the pandemic for almost two years, in which the intensive care units are always full of corona-infected people who can no longer breathe. Where staff repeatedly fight for life to physical and mental exhaustion, always with the risk of becoming infected despite bulky protective clothing. In the pandemic, people die differently, writes Lange. Sometimes more suddenly and always lonely. He’s seen so many patients die that he can’t remember them all. Meanwhile, too many nurses would have quit their jobs.

Lange reports that he himself has been burdened by growing social division since the start of the pandemic. If disinfectants and protective equipment were stolen from the halls and opponents of the corona measures sent him inhumane messages, chasms would open up. “But we will all come out of this pandemic only together,” he said in an interview. The unvaccinated and the vaccinated are worth the same in intensive care units. “My job as a nurse is not to judge. We shouldn’t start categorizing people or judging them morally.”

At times, the straightforward and rather unforgiving depictions of Lange’s “Intensiv” might give readers an oppressive feeling. He recounts in a touching way the first tears he shed at work after the death of a little patient. And about his worst day of the pandemic, when he left a loyal friend alone before he died due to perceived work pressure. Looking back, he says bitterly, “You don’t have time to mourn, you have to function. And in the end, no one will thank you.”

Disappointed in politics

Lange answers many questions in the book – how disappointed he is with what he believes is still a lack of political concept to improve the state of care, why the sound of a zipper being pulled gives him the flesh of chicken. At the same time, he raises questions he can’t answer: that of a panacea – and whether he still wants to work in the craft long term.

The intensive care nurse says a lot on about 190 pages and also wants to show possible solutions. A premium or more for care is not enough, fundamental structural changes are needed, according to Lange. In his view, this should include better pay, compensation for overwork with extra free time and health as a new school subject to make work more attractive for the next generation. Basically, the requirements are not new, and yet Lange attaches resolute importance to them.

In the end, in addition to the call to finally improve the working conditions of nursing staff in the long term, there is also a plea for a profession which, for Lange, is “the most versatile I know”, as he points out. in an interview. Which fills him more than any other activity – but which he no longer wants to practice at any price.

– Ricardo Lange: Intensive – When the state of emergency is everyday life. An emergency call. With Jan Mohnhaupt. dtv Verlagsgesellschaft, Munich, 192 pages, 16.00 EUR, ISBN: 978-3-423-26329-0. (dpa)