Selina Rogers is a Healthcare Assistant with the Urgent Care Service run by St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth in partnership with Marie Curie. Here she explains the impact the second lockdown will have on patients, as well as staff.
We see a lot of death in what we do, but during these last months there’s been more than ever. I don’t mean people who’ve died from COVID-19 but those with conditions such as cancer, motor neurone disease and heart failure.
Working in tough conditions
We can lose four patients just in one day – that’s around what we’d usually expect in a week. We can finish a shift and have our two days off, come back to work and see patients’ names that are all new because those we’d looked after on our previous shift have already died. I find that incredibly tough.
I think it’s because we’re getting our referrals in later and people are dying a lot sooner. It’s almost like crisis intervention – in many cases, we’re seeing them in the last 24 – 48 hours of their life and making sure they’re comfortable.
We think it’s in part because many people haven’t been going for routine appointments at hospitals, either because they’re scared it’s not safe during the pandemic or because they’ve not wanted the NHS to feel any more stretched than it already is.
A reassuring presence
This time next year we’re likely to see even more deaths because people aren’t having the treatment they need. That’s why I want to echo what the NHS is telling everyone, reminding people just how important it is for them to keep their appointments, and if they feel unwell or notice anything out of the ordinary in terms of their health, to talk to their GP.
It can feel really challenging looking after people who are so poorly, but we never shy away from it and the pandemic has not – and will not – change that. It is very special to almost be part of a patient’s family during such a vulnerable time. I feel privileged that in my role I can give them not only practical support, but be a reassuring presence that reminds them they don’t have to go through it alone.
Another important part of what we do is preparing them for what’s going to happen, getting the balance right between being gentle but not sugar-coating the truth, because it’s crucial to be honest. These are not easy conversations to have but in my experience families appreciate that openness and feel relief that they can share whatever they’re feeling with us.
New ways to give comfort
What I do miss since the pandemic started, is being able to give people a hug when they need it. We can’t because we all have to respect the safety measures that help keep everyone safe from the virus.
Just this week, I was with a lady who sadly died while our team was there. Her husband was heartbroken yet I couldn’t put my arm around him the way I usually would. It’s instinctive when someone desperately needs that comfort, and it feels really alien and frustrating not to. I just rested my hand on his shoulder and hoped he could see in my eyes how much I care, because of course the masks we wear as part of our PPE make it harder for people to read our expressions.
Supporting families through difficult times
What helps me at those times is feeling I’ve done all I can to make such a difficult time that little bit easier for families, and knowing St Luke’s bereavement team will be there to support them as they grieve. They can be the comfort blanket they need as they gradually come to terms with their loss.
Going into this second lockdown is tough on everyone, and particularly challenging for people affected by terminal illness because they might be feeling more isolated or anxious. I want to reassure our patients, their carers and their families that St Luke’s will continue to be there for them.
I also want to thank everyone who supports our charity because it makes such a difference. I’ve been so touched by the way the community has kept us close to their hearts despite the pressures they themselves are facing.
There doesn’t seem to be any slowing in the higher number of deaths at home and our service will be needed more than ever in the months ahead. Everyone’s kind words and thoughtful gestures really help all of us at St Luke’s dig that little bit deeper to keep going for our patients, whatever this pandemic throws at us.
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