7 April 2021
Jennifer Solomon travelled a total of 4,310 miles to swap the sun-drenched beaches of the Caribbean for the COVID-19 intensive care wards of a busy London hospital.
But the 53-year-old nurse, who grew up in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and qualified at the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) back in 1990, working in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU), before finally leaving for sunnier climes, claims even the British weather couldn’t dampen her passion for helping those in need.
Back in the 1990s Jennifer, had ‘itchy feet’ to go travelling and for a while ended up working on yachts, eventually settling in Grenada in the Caribbean, where her husband runs a small hotel.
Scroll forward nearly 30 years and Jennifer has been back working in the RFH’s ICU for two months, after making the momentous decision to leave her family and come back to offer her support during a pandemic which was placing enormous staffing pressure on the NHS, especially ICUs.
In the intervening years Jennifer kept up her nursing registration, getting a job teaching medical students, successfully completing a masters nursing doctorate and even setting up a nursing programme on the island.
Jennifer is married and has three teenage children. But the RFH alumni never lost touch with the nurses she qualified with, including Helen Jones, now Dr Helen Jones, head of research nursing at the Royal Free London.
She said: “I was chatting to ‘the girls’ I qualified with at the Royal Free Hospital over Christmas on Zoom like everyone does now and it was quite emotional hearing their stories about the pandemic. There were no cases in Grenada and I started to think I might have to come back to help. It was a physical reaction – I felt pulled back. Happily my children also gave me their blessing – my daughter has just started nursing school and told me to “Go for it!”
“Next thing I knew Helen had put me in touch with HR at the Royal Free Hospital who then moved heaven and earth to help me get back. I was worried that maybe I’d be too old or unskilled but no-one ever made me feel like that.”
Jennifer arrived towards the end of January and after the mandatory period of self-isolation reported for her role as a support nurse in the RFH ICU.
She explained: “I decided I felt comfortable going in at support level because I’m not having to make final decisions and I felt really well supported. I have certainly felt valued – my feet have not touched the ground because it has been so busy. It has given me enormous satisfaction to know that by being here I’ve hopefully enabled someone to take a precious day off to recharge their batteries or even just go for a half hour break off the ward.
“There has been the occasional moment where people have noticed I might not be from round here because I’ve used American terminology and when they’ve seen me out of PPE my deep tan caused some amazement as obviously very few people are travelling at the moment! But the staff have been nothing but welcoming and supportive and have thanked me for coming and it’s been an absolute privilege to care for the patients.”
Because of the restrictions she’s been unable to meet up with the colleagues she qualified with and has either spent her time at work or in a flat she was loaned by a relative. Although happily she’s been able to say hello to Helen, who, in addition to her research role also volunteered as an ITU support nurse.
Jennifer concludes: “Of course I was a bit homesick for my family but I know I made the right decision. I am proud that I came to help. Nursing is a fraternity – we stick together. Frankly I couldn’t have looked myself in the mirror if I’d just poured another G&T and sat by the pool!”
Image: Jennifer Solomon at the Royal Free Hospital