Updated: May 9
by : Mariel Gonzales
It was an ordinary night shift for the Filipina nurse Joy Ongcachuy, when the horrifying London terror attack shocked and terrified the city. The assailants crashed the railings of a pedestrian in London Bridge and stabbed passers-by leaving 7 people killed and 30 injured. It was beyond her imagination that this awful night will create a lasting mark on her career as a nurse.
Joy has worked in Royal London Hospital (RLH) since 2002 and currently the nurse lead for the Robotic Surgery. Being the team leader on that night shift, she was also responsible for coordinating the team. RLH was one of the closest medical facilities in the area of the attack hence, patients were rushed in there to receive urgent treatment. The mass casualty from the attack brought "major incident" on board which called for necessary arrangements to accommodate the injured people.
The significant role that Joy played that night was to ascertain that all patients receive safe, efficient and effective care. As the theatre coordinator, she needed to ensure that there is an appropriate staffing levels (skill mix) as well as provide and lead direction to all the team members.
"There were only two teams that night and we already had a sick patient on the operating table when we received the trauma call," she recalled. Seven patients urgently needed surgical intervention and Joy had to organise the teams to attend to these patients. Although the theatre staff during out of hours are trained to manage crisis and trauma, treating all of them at the same time would be a challenge due to the limited number of staff.
"We needed to open an additional six theatres. I had to call my colleagues to come in so we can perform the necessary surgeries for the patients brought to us." Joy said. A standard theatre team (along with the surgeons and anaesthetist) consists of a scrub person, two circulators (ideally) and an anaesthetic assistant. Imagine how many nurses, health care assistants and operating department practitioners she had to contact to make up a fully functional team per patient. Just do the math!
The appalling event may have brought the worst of humanity but it also conveyed the best of it. Fortunately, a number of healthcare staff volunteered to come to work together and save the lives at stake. "I have also received calls from my other colleagues volunteering to come and help us when they heard about the attack," Joy reminisced with a sigh of relief.
Joy successfully organised the theatre teams leading to a positive outcome post-operatively for all the injured patients wheeled to the operating theatres. "Every patient we operated that night survived. Nurses are known to handle pressure really well. We stayed calm that night and did not panic," she said with pride as she recalled how the whole department handled the situation to perform at their best to keep all the patients safe.
Whilst carrying on with her job and daily life after the incident, Joy was oblivious about how her actions precipitated a massive impact in her community. She was surprised when she received a letter from Her Majesty.
“I still can't believe it when I received a letter from HMRC that I will be awarded with the Officer of Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). It was so surreal." The OBE award is the fourth from the five ranks given by the British Order. This distinguished award recognises people's great accomplishments, heroic acts or service to the country.
Joy's passion to care for people and dedication at work led her to provide a high standard of service that's worth recognising. She modestly said, "I was only doing my job that night to ensure all the patients were safe under our care." Little did she know, she was giving above and beyond what was expected of her. The OBE award is a tangible reminder for the great contribution she provided to the lives of the people they have saved that night.
"I was very nervous as my family and I headed to the Royal Palace on the day of the ceremony." Joy said as she uttered her feelings about meeting Prince Charles personally. Who wouldn't tremble on their knees knowing you will meet a member of the Royal Family? But as she stepped into Buckingham Palace, she felt at ease and relaxed.
"The transition from being anxious to feeling accomplished was unbelievable. I felt really proud of what I and the rest of the team have done. It was indeed a great achievement to be invited by the Royal Family." She received the phenomenal award on 29th of December 2017 along with 42 others who have responded and played vital roles during the incident.
Every Filipino nurse must have been beaming with pride to learn that Joy's professionalism and compassion was recognised. Joy has served as an inspiration to others including her daughter who will be graduating soon as a nurse.
Joy had shown us that we can be a hero in our own little ways. We as nurses do not seek to indulge ourselves with plaudits nor praise. We fulfill our daily tasks without realising we actually make a difference in other people’s well-being, we save lives, and indeed inspire others.
And so on those fateful days, Joy did not come in thinking she would do something extra to earn her recognition. It was her dedication with what she does day in and day out and doing it with utmost excellence and pride that earned her the prestige of being rewarded with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
About the Writer:
Mariel has been in the UK Nursing industry for over 10 years, working as a theatre nurse in the Kettering General Hospital. She is a proud wife and a mother of a beautiful toddler. While she enjoys her job as a nurse and passionate about it, she also loves taking photos and dreams of having her own photography studio
Tags: Filipino UK Nurse, Pinoy Nurse, Royal family, OBE, OFW, UK Nurse