Coronavirus: Nurse 'quite overwhelmed' after being told his new patient was the PM

23 April 2020, 11:34

Luis Pitarma was one of two nurses singled out by Boris Johnson in his message of thanks after leaving hospital
Luis Pitarma was one of two nurses singled out by Boris Johnson in his message of thanks after leaving hospital. Picture: Social media
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Portuguese nurse Luis Pitarma has described in a one-off interview the "overwhelming" experience of having the responsibility of treating the prime minister.

The 29-year-old intensive care nurse, from west London, was one of two nurses singled out for a personal thanks from Boris Johnson for treating his case of Covid-19.

Speaking on Thursday, he said he felt "extremely proud" after being thanked in person by the prime minister - and a further thanks made in a video posted to Twitter left him feeling "quite emotional".

For all the latest updates on coronavirus, follow our live blog

But Mr Pitarma said it all began with him feeling "nervous at first" when he was told his next patient coming in at St Thomas' hospital would be Mr Johnson.

He said: "I was changing into scrubs before my night shift when the matron called me over and told me the prime minister was about to come to ICU.

"I had been chosen to look after him because they were confident I would cope with the situation well.

“I felt nervous at first – he was the prime minister. The responsibility I was going to hold in my hands was quite overwhelming."

Mr Pitarma said he was confused as to how he should address Mr Johnson, but his matron reminded him that he was a patient like every other.

After meeting him and asking how he would like to be addressed, the nurse said he "said to call him Boris" which made him feel "less nervous".

"He just wanted to be looked after like anyone else," he added.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson ICU nurse said he 'absolutely needed to be there'

Mr Pitarma, who has worked at the hospital for four years, said he was "by his side" for all three nights spent in the intensive care unit fighting coronavirus, where the pair chatted.

He said that Mr Johnson had talked with him about his home of Portugal, and recalled how he had told Mr Johnson of his dream to work at St Thomas' since his first day of training in 2009, and learning about Florence Nightingale's connection to the facility.

READ MORE: Up to 300,000 Britons to take part in government research

"He said it was amazing that I wanted to work here for so long and was glad I was there when he needed our care. It was a pleasure to look after him," Mr Pitarma said.

He added that Mr Johnson was "very thankful and happy" when his team gave over messages of support that had been sent from the outside world.

"They gave him the strength to fight," he said.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Speaking about the praise he was given after the prime minister's discharge from hospital, the nurse said: "I was really surprised but so happy. I never thought I would be highlighted like that.

"I was very proud, not only for me but for all the team who looked after him. I was also really pleased he was safe and out of hospital."

READ MORE: What is coronavirus contact tracing? How will the UK NHS contact tracing app work?

Mr Pitarma said he then received a call just hours later from Portuguese President Marcelo de Sousa, who also expressed his gratitude.

He said it was "quite surreal" but "proud" to receive such a phone call, and to receive an invitation to the President Palace in Portugal.

"Apparently I'm a celebrity in Portugal now!" he joked, but said it was "important to me to get on with my job as normal.

"Other patients need the same level of care as the prime minister did. There are lives to save and a team to support.

READ MORE: Oxford University vaccine human trials start

"I think we have a long way to go to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, but we seem to be going in the right direction.

"People still need to follow the guidance to stay at home and keep everyone protected otherwise we will go backwards.

"It's been great to see so much support for the NHS from the public and I've never seen my team so united. I hope people will value their lives and loves ones more when this is all over."