On the frontline: “It’s a challenging time – it’s ok to feel down”

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

Debbie Yates was working as a complementary therapist at St John’s Hospice in Lancaster, until the arrival of Covid-19 led her to retrain as a healthcare assistant. Here she tells us what it’s been like to take on a completely different role during the pandemic.

My job changed completely when Covid came along. As a complementary therapist in the Hospice at Home team I would receive a referral and go out to see patients in their homes. I provided massage, reflexology, aromatherapy and reiki. Then obviously with trying to make things safer we had to cut down on visits. When that happened there was a call for those who were open to redeployment, and to help out I put my name forward.

I had some in-house training and I’ve been working as a healthcare assistant pretty much since the beginning of lockdown. Now my responsibilities include helping patients to wash and get out of bed, monitoring vital signs, assisting with meal times and sometimes keeping people company. It’s a very different role!

Caring in new ways

I also on the ward. It’s been very interesting because I get to see the whole spectrum of care, for mind, body and soul and everything in between. Still being able to support people is very important to me, so I’ve really enjoyed being able to help people at this stage with their wellbeing.

In the beginning, it was quite hard to ring people up and explain why visits were being put on hold, because for some people touch therapy really is beneficial.  Some find it helps with pain management, and find the comfort of touch helpful on a more psychological level. I think in general it’s been very hard for people not to hug each other. Social distancing has taken some getting used to.

I’m somebody who adapts pretty quickly when change comes along, but the one challenging thing has been wearing PPE.  It’s not the fact of wearing it as such, because obviously this kind of job means that you have to wear it on certain occasions, it’s the longevity of it. If you’ve got to wear a face mask for eight hours a day it can get really hot under there. It’s like you’re in a little greenhouse! In the beginning there were a few occasions when I felt quite dizzy, it took a little while to get used to it.

On the other side, it’s also difficult for the patients you see. It can be quite challenging for them because you’re covering half of your face and communication can be harder. You’re having to express yourself in a bit more of a dramatic way with your hands, and talk a bit louder.

Keeping spirits up

I’ve been fortunate not to have any close friends or family affected by the virus, I do feel very lucky about that. I tend to get on with things and I don’t think about it too much. That comes from working in complementary therapy.

There’s certainly been the odd occasion where I’ve had a dip. In the beginning a lot of people were anxious, because you’re listening to their stories constantly, so you’re listening to their anxieties. That can have an effect on you. Mindfulness is really helpful because it grounds things, and you can say ‘okay, it’s fine to feel a bit down’.

At St. John’s people are quite open and willing to chat things through. If you do have a down moment that’s really helpful. The hospice really is like a close knit family in that sense. There’s always somebody there to listen to you and lift your spirits, which is important because you can’t always deal with things on your own.

At the beginning of lockdown the communications team started sending out a daily update to tell people where we were at with Covid. It’s since morphed into a newsletter packed with things like in-house news and quizzes.  It’s been their way to lift spirits and keep people connected, because quite a few people have been furloughed, some are working from home, and a lot of the volunteers are at home too.

I’ve found out new things about colleagues, like challenge events they’re taking part in. There are wellness resources in there too – we had someone doing free online yoga classes at one point. Little tips like these recognise it has been difficult for some, and help to show support.

More information

Our Frontline is a partnership between Shout, Samaritans, Mind, Hospice UK and The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It offers round-the-clock one-to-one support, by call or text from trained volunteers, plus resources, tips and ideas to look after your mental health.

Hospice UK’s Just ‘B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline.  The service is a free confidential national helpline available 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm on 0300 030 4434, providing bereavement, trauma and emotional support for all NHS, care sector staff and emergency service workers.

  • Call the ‘Just B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline on 0300 030 4434
  • Visit the Our Frontline site

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