On the frontline: “Working alongside this virus is tough”

Categories: Care and Featured.

Katie Costello is a Nursing Assistant in the Practical Care Team at St Catherine’s Hospice in Crawley. To mark International Nurses Day and Dying Matters Awareness Week, she shares an open letter about what it’s like to work on the frontline.

I work as part of the Community Team at St Catherine’s Hospice, which means I provide care to terminally ill people and their family and friends in the comfort of their own homes. Every year, my colleagues and I provide care and support to around 2,100 local people facing death and bereavement.

Coronavirus has made our roles tough to say the least. Patients and their families often look to us for answers, but in these uncertain times we can’t always give them the answers they need. We can’t tell anyone how long this is going to go on for, or how long people will have to be away from their families and friends, from their usual routines, and life as they usually know it. That’s really, really hard.

We all love our jobs, and we’re all committed to continuing to do everything we possibly can for all those who need us. We’re still providing care to people in the comfort of their own homes and on our wards, and for our Living Well Centres, which we’ve temporarily had to close, we’re providing support virtually, offering exercise, music, meditation and wellbeing resources online. We’ve also set up a Telephone Buddy system for our patients and their carers, where they can sign up to have a social call with one of our amazing volunteers. So even for those people we can’t see physically right now, we’re still very much in touch, and very much there for them.

But working alongside this virus is tough, there’s no other word for it. It’s challenging, and sometimes stressful, but the love that we have for the people we care for and for our job is what keeps us going.

Working in a hospice, we’re used to every day being different, and that’s much the same now – every day is challenging in its own way. It’s a constant moving ship, as it is everywhere, and the virus is affecting every department. We’ve had to put movement zones in at the hospice, social distancing means we can’t provide all our care in our usual ways, and we’re missing more than 1,200 volunteers, who we’ve had to temporarily stand down for their safety.

The people we care for are at the heart of every decision we make, and even though it can feel tough some days trying to keep on top of all the changes, we have a lot of support from our Senior Management Team and we know every change is necessary to keep our patients and their families safe, and to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe.

With everything going on, you may have felt worried yourself. I have too, it’s only natural, but I push my worries aside to come to work because that’s what I signed up to do when I became a Nursing Assistant – to be there, caring for people, no matter what.

The pandemic has certainly made our entire team think about things and we’ve all learnt so much throughout all of this. We’re learning a lot about ourselves as individuals and how we handle situations, and I think we’re learning how tough we can be, with whatever things are thrown at us each day. We’re certainly learning how to handle new things!

So much has changed in the last couple of months, but what’s never changed is the commitment we all have to our patients, and to making sure we’re still giving the best possible end of life care that we can.

It’s hard because things like the masks we now need to wear, create a barrier between us and the people we’re looking after. When somebody is scared, angry, or upset, they look to us for reassurance, for advice or guidance, or for love, compassion and care – sometimes all three! When they can’t see half of our faces that becomes more challenging, but we’re working doubly hard to make sure everybody feels that same level of connection and that same level of support from us. We’ll continue to do that, whatever this crisis throws at us.

Although there are hard days, we’re experiencing huge amounts of gratitude all round too. We’re feeling thankful for our own health, and we’re feeling overwhelmed with the love and support our hospice has had.

The support really does keep us going. On my last visit, a gentleman at the petrol station said well done, keep up the good work, and we even had a round of applause out the front of someone’s house the other day – that was so kind.

That sort of thing has strengthened us through some challenging weeks and helped us through our hardest days. It’s made us stop and smile when we’re really tired and need a break.

Despite the financial uncertainty for so many people at the moment, people continue to support St Catherine’s and their generosity has made a big difference.

Donations, whether that be physical things like PPE, cakes and chocolates, or money which allows us to keep doing our jobs, it’s all heartwarming. It’s magic really, to think of how kind, how considerate and how loving everybody is being, despite everything that they’re going through themselves.

We want you to know that we’re staying positive at St Catherine’s. We’re still here for the people who need our care, in the community and on our ward, and we’ll continue to do our jobs to the absolute best of our ability, whatever this virus throws at us.

A huge amount of love and thanks to everyone who is supporting their local hospice and frontline workers like me. Your support is hugely appreciated, especially in these challenging times.

For more information visit St Catherine’s Hospice

Today is International Nurses Day. Dying Matters Awareness Week runs until May 17

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