By Byron Kaye and Kylie MacLellan
SYDNEY/LONDON (Reuters) – Two nurses who were singled out for praise by Boris Johnson for their care while he was in hospital with the coronavirus said the British prime minister was treated like any other patient.
New Zealand nurse Jenny McGee said she was unfazed by the task of caring for Johnson, who “absolutely needed to be there”, while Luis Pitarma, from Portugal, said the responsibility “was quite overwhelming”.
“There was a lot of media interest about him being in hospital and, to be honest, that was the toughest,” McGee told TVNZ in an interview that aired on Thursday, her first public remarks since the episode.
“As a unit, he was just another patient we were trying to do our best for, so it was business as usual. It was just another day at the office,” added McGee, who has worked for the National Health Service since 2010.
In a statement issued by London’s St Thomas’ hospital, where 55-year-old Johnson was taken on April 5 after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened, Pitarma said: “I asked how he would like to be addressed and he said to call him Boris. That made me feel less nervous because he took away any formality.”
“I’ve never looked after someone high profile before. But he was also a patient like any other patient, a life like any other life.”
Johnson was moved into intensive care on April 6, remaining there for three nights. On being discharged from hospital on April 12, he said in a video message: “The NHS saved my life, no question”.
Johnson named several nurses who had cared for him, before thanking two in particular — “Jenny from New Zealand” and “Luis from Portugal” — who he said had stood by his bedside “when things could have gone either way”.
McGee said that when Johnson posted that message, she was getting ready for her nightshift and a friend texted her.
“My first reaction was that it was a joke,” she said.
McGee said that as she carried out her duties, she and the prime minister “spent a lot of time together and we talked away about NZ”, particularly about her home city of Invercargill, which she said he took an interest in.
After shifts caring for the British leader, she said she would get in her car and “hear things about Boris Johnson on the news that was very surreal because I thought ‘wow, I’ve been looking after him'”.
“But I really wasn’t fazed,” she added.
Johnson wasn’t the only national leader to congratulate the two nurses. McGee received a message from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern while Pitarma was contacted by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
“It was quite surreal but I was very proud to get his call. He was thankful for what I’d done,” Pitarma said.
“To be thanked by the Prime Minister and the Portuguese President within the same few hours was amazing, I couldn’t really believe what was happening.”
(Writing by Byron Kaye and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Frances Kerry)