ICU Liberty Singers - Singer Stories

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The ICU Liberty Singers began life as an attempt to bring some fun and respite to ICU workers after the toughest year in history. Choir members include ICU staff such as nurses, doctors and allied health professionals who have been working on the frontline of healthcare. 

Our singers share their experience of singing together and the impact that being a part of this choir has had on them.

“Singing is a mindful activity. It’s harder to be distracted by the everyday noise in life if you’re busy creating your own tune. Anyone can sing and sharing it just makes it better! Who knows where this project will end?”

Kari Olsen-Porthouse, Liberty Singer

Every Breath You Take (We Watch Over You)

by ICU Liberty Singers

My name is Julie Harper. I am an ACCP on Critical Care at QMC in Nottingham. Over the years I have been involved in amateur musical theatre and this has always been my source of stress relief. During COVID this all stopped and at the time I needed it most.

So when this opportunity came up to sing my heart out, with people who have and are going through the same, how could I not get involved? 

It has been great and uplifting to see everyone, and meet new people from all over the country, just sing and have a laugh without judgement.

Julie Harper

Advanced Critical Care Practitioner, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham

I’m Sophie, an ICU nurse based at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire working in General Critical Care. I’ll have been qualified two years the end of December. Started there as a newly qualified nurse.

I decided to join the ICU choir to help spread some cheer and for my own mental health. I have seen some of our most experienced nurses struggle to get through a shift. I can see the sadness and defeat in there eyes when we lose another patient we have fought so hard to keep alive. I look up to them and to see them struggle made me really question if I was cut out to be an ICU nurse.

Thankfully I work with such an amazing, caring and supportive team, when I question why I became a nurse they soon put me to rights. Having this to look forward to every week and to practice was a great relief and a form of escapism from the constant and often chaotic shifts that we all have to endure.

Sophie Jackman

ICU Nurse, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire

As Chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses I am very conscious of how traumatic the last year has been for those working on ICU. We all have needed to look for ways to improve our wellbeing and self care. Singing in this choir has not only done that in spades but also produced a fantastic song as a tribute to ICU staff all over the world.

Nicki Credland MMedSci, BSc, PGCE, PFHEA, RNT, RN

Chair, British Association of Critical Care Nurses (BACCN)

I suffered being on a ventilator for 7 days as a result of MERS coronavirus back in 2013. I thought Being an ICU Nurse for 20 years would have prepared me for it, only to realise how wrong was I to assume. Lets just say I am grateful to have been given the chance to share my lived experience as an ICU patient for my colleagues in Intensive care to learn from. Seeing the suffering of my patients from Coronavirus earlier this year was like Déjà vu, my terrifying experience of being intubated came flashing back and its been an excruciating journey since. Diagnosed to have PTSD, I suffered with anxiety and panic attacks therefore I was taken away from clinical duties for a period of time and have only looked forward to the time when my sleeping cocktail quietens the incessant noise that was in my head. 

Until I came across Alison’s twitter post, about the Liberty Singers’ project. I started to slowly picked myself up from feeling down in the gutter to looking forward with enthusiasm to our Wednesday evening rendezvous. Karis’ personality with her warm up “Kari-ography” to the beautiful adapted words written by Jackie for the song Every Breath You Take (we watch over you) has been life saving for me in this phase of my life. It reminded me of my long lost passion in Music, and how it has helped me with my troubles every time I’m down. I am grateful for this opportunity. 

Thank you.   Thank you for helping me and my colleagues in healthcare across the country to improve our well-being.   Thank you for I have found my smile again.  Thank you, for this is going to be one of those fond memories that i will think of whenever I’m down. 

Joel Reyes

Senior Staff Nurse, Intensive Care Unit, University College London Hospital

One of things I have really missed during the pandemic is the choir that I normally sing in every Wednesday evening.  It is not just the singing and technical aspects of making music with others that comes with a choir, but also the sense of community, support and connection through collective singing.  It’s difficult to capture into words, but there’s a profound, intangible emotion felt while bonding with other choir members in rehearsals and performances, along with the social interaction and fun times before and after the singing.

I have very much missed a weekly Wednesday sing during the pandemic for all those reasons – and then the ICU Liberty Singers came about!  We’ve only had 2 rehearsals together on Zoom which is never quite the same as face-to-face practices.  However, the joy in everyone’s faces as they sing along muted on their screens and Kari’s infectious enthusiasm has really brightened up this gloomy second wave period for me already.

It’s been such a tough year for everyone, and I hadn’t realised how much stress and tension had built up until becoming extremely emotional during that first sing together of Every Breath You Take which beautifully expresses the feelings across the ICU community right now.

The ICU Liberty Singers was the right medicine at the right time that I needed to boost up my mental wellbeing and physical health too from just feeling better after a good old sing with others.  I feel fortunate to have stumbled across the invite on social media and very grateful to Alison and others who organised this ICU choir.  THANK YOU!!

Heather Baird

Intensive Care Pathways Leader, Intensive Care Unit, Brighton

I decided to give it [ICU Liberty Singers] a go after a really difficult few months.  The pandemic and personal issues have really taken its toll on me personally. When the opportunity came up to join this choir I thought to myself “why not, it sounds like fun and we all need some fun right now!”

I was nervous at first but I enjoyed every second of the first session.  It was so much fun and it really made a difference to my mood! I met some lovely people. I even met a consultant for the first time, who was about to join my team! I would highly recommend joining a choir to anyone who enjoys singing. It really is good for the soul!

The ICU Liberty Singers has been born out of something awful but somehow we have managed to turn it around into something wonderful.  I really hope we can spread a little cheer around the country!

Laura Morton

Personal Assistant, University Hospital of Wales Adult Critical Care Unit, Cardiff.

Anyone who knows me would be really surprised I joined a choir. It’s well known in the family I can’t sing!

However I loved the idea of a multi professional critical care group getting together.

I attended the first rehearsal (half expecting it to be my last) but I really enjoyed it – we had lots of fun with no one feeling awkward and got singing straight away under Kari’s tuition and infectious enthusiasm .

It’s no secret in 2020 we in critical care have shared experiences which have impacted on us professionally and personally. To do something uplifting and fun as a group is great. A great stress relief after busy shift. Who knew I would ever record my own voice singing and send it in! Safe in the knowledge that the other 99 can likely sing!  The song has great meaning to us.

What it also says we are still here, resilient and able to come together as a critical care team (it doesn’t matter we don’t know everyone), and to have fun in spite of everything.

Carol Boulanger

Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust

I heard about the choir via a colleague on Twitter.  Throughout this year my levels of stress and anxiety have been high like everyone else’s. Singing is one of the things that brings me joy and music helps me to relax.  I had forgotten how good it felt to sing with people.

The added bonus of singing with critical care colleagues is something special- we have all been travelling through a storm in the same boat and to be able to come together to do something filled with joy & happiness it priceless.  And you can’t beat seeing everyone smiling and dancing along on the zoom rehearsals!

Thank you!

Lyndsey Jarvie

Critical Care Nurse

I heard about it at work through one of our consultants, it sounded great but I was worried about taking part. I used to sing quite a bit, I trained in a church choir and loved musical theatre and in addition I played 3 instruments.

Then in 2008 I was diagnosed with TB after weeks of coughing and, as a result,  I completely lost my voice for about two months. Once I recovered my voice changed and it has never been the same. My vocal cords have been examined and I have had speech and language therapy but I never regained the voice I once had.

This is the first time I have done any ‘proper’ singing (besides singing in the car with the kids) and although I don’t sound great, I have enjoyed it so much. It has given me something to look forward to each week at a time which has been incredibly tough and emotional. I cannot thank you enough.

Helen Fletcher

I joined the choir quite by accident when our ITU Consultant text me the join link and said here is the link for you…which I blindly clicked on, not knowing what it was. When I realised I’d joined a virtual ITU choir I was secretly thrilled as I’ve always wanted to be part of choir but wasn’t brave enough to audition.

As an ITU Psychologist responsible for staff wellbeing this choir literally struck chords with me and I tried to get as many of our staff involved as possible.      As a psychologist we know that singing has been shown to improve our sense of happiness and wellbeing. Research shows that people feel more positive after actively singing than they do after just listening to music.  

Research into what makes us resilient suggests that our social connections play a vital role in maintaining wellbeing. Having a sense of belonging and a purpose are all important factors. And of course gathering in social groups is not something we can physically do right now. So seeing the positivity coming from this online group suggests that the same benefits can be achieved virtually.

I’m so excited to be part of this and even on evenings when I’m tired and not feeling up to it, I feel so much brighter after just Kari’s warm ups!!

Michelle Smalley

ITU Psychologist

I am a trainee doctor in intensive care medicine in Manchester. We were hit hard during the first wave and have been dealing with covid patients on ventilators since March.

Our second wave started in October and I slipped a disc in my cervical spine after a weekend of nights when I was repeatedly turning ventilated patients on their tummies and backs. I was off for a few weeks to recover, was in a lot of pain and couldn’t use my right hand as normal.

I really needed some cheering up when I saw Alison‘s tweet about joining the choir. Singing with the group and having fun, has made me feel much more positive about returning to the frontline. Thank you ICU Liberty Singers Choir, you are amazing!

Dr Faiuna Haseeb

I’ve worked in ITU for 20 years this year as a pharmacist. Two decades, so much has happened and changed in that time. Both professionally and personally for me.

Music brings people together especially in times of adversity. It always has, during the war, at happy times of celebrations and sad times celebrating peoples lives.  For me at my lowest times being part of a choir has brought me great joy. So when this year, such an unprecedented time in history, in all our lives, a colleague messaged me about this ITU choir, knowing how I love to sing. I jumped at the chance to join in. I felt elated when I found out I was number 93 and had been able to join the choir in the initial 100. 

The lead up to our first session and seeing all the messages it made me feel like I was part of something wider than just my local team it gave me a great sense of solidarity and a sense of belonging. It has brought me joy singing as a group and I am proud of what we all do in our working lives so to be able to have some light relief at this time of year just coming through the 2nd wave the choir has come at just the right point.

Julia Trinder

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