Caring on the Frontline during Covid: Hospice at Home

We caught up with one of our frontline workers, Shelia Dormer, who is a Nursing Assistant in our Hospice at Home team, to hear from her about what it has been like working on the frontline during the coronavirus outbreak.
Published on: Tuesday 12 May 2020 at 14:03

St Clare’s Hospice at Home team of registered nurses and nursing assistants provide free, specialist hands-on personal care in patients’ own homes to those approaching the end of life, or when families need additional support.

Every month the Hospice at Home team spends approximately 1,400 hours caring for people in their home, ensuring that patients, families and their carers receive compassionate care at the right time and in the right place.

The team has continued to work to support patients and their families throughout the coronavirus outbreak, adapting their service to ensure the safety of our staff, patients and their families at all times.

Q: How have you been doing?

A: It’s been challenging at times, but we are all doing our best in these difficult circumstances. At first we were feeling scared, and worried for our own families. But we are trying to be strong for each other, and our families.

There have been definite highs – and of course some lows – but we are just out there doing the best we can. We are riding the storm, and waiting for the rainbow.

The whole situation has brought us even closer together as a team. We all feel like we are in this together – and are supporting each other a lot more.

Q: How has your work changed?

A: It’s all change, but we are adapting to it very well. It is all about putting safety first at all times.

We are used to going into the office and having handover meetings in person, but to eliminate the risk we haven’t been meeting in person. It has been quite an adjustment to get used to. We work from home and wait to receive a phone call to find out details about our patients, and then we travel alone to their houses – whereas we used to drive to the patient’s house in pairs.

We then do our handover meetings on a Zoom call when we arrive home – so we do still see each other and touch-base as a team. We have a personal Whats App group where we catch up, and support each other – like we would normally do in person. If we are feeling low, we can always phone our team leaders or speak to each other about it.

Q: What has it been like supporting patients?

A: The PPE (personal protective equipment) has been quite a change. We are wearing face masks, goggles and full length gowns – which we are not used to. It can be a bit daunting and strange for patients and their families when we turn up at the door completely gowned up and our faces covered.

It’s difficult because, before, we might have offered a family member a hug or given them a reassuring touch, but now we can’t do that.

It is hard when they cannot even see us smiling at them behind the mask – but I think they can see we are smiling through our eyes.

We are just reassuring them the best that we can, and supporting them as much as possible.

It has really made me value my role as a Hospice at Home nursing assistant. Listening to the news, I know that there are some people dying in hospital on their own. But knowing that I can still be with patients at the end of their life, and support them, is a huge thing for me. I can still hold their hands – even with PPE on – and give them that comfort. Quite often you are the last person that is with them, and knowing that I can be with people at the end of their life, is a privilege.

Q: Have you experienced any uplifting moments during all this?

A: There has been a lot of kindness during this whole situation. It has been wonderful to see. Lots of people and companies have been donating things to us – like toiletries and hand creams, and even an Easter egg!

I got choked up one day as I was leaving a patient’s house with a colleague, when one of their neighbours – a young mother with her three kids – came out to stand on her doorstep as we left. She said to her children ‘let’s clap for our nurses’ and then the four of them applauded us as we walked back to our cars.

The ‘clap for our carers’ each Thursday evening has been uplifting. We’ve been going out on our doorstep at home and joining in the clap for all the key workers and our colleagues like the district nurses and carers from other agencies.

Let’s hope that all of this makes for a kinder world in the long run. There has been lots of sadness and heartbreak – but also lots of acts of kindness.  Communities are coming together, and people are looking out for their neighbours now. Hopefully this change in outlook sticks around, long after this virus is gone. Looking out for each other and being neighbourly is something we should hold on to.

Q: What do you most look forward to after lockdown?

A: Seeing my grandchildren! I have two beautiful grandchildren and I cannot wait to hug them again.

This whole situation has really made me, and everyone else I am sure, re-evaluate life. There are so many things that we normally take for granted – like being able to see your friends and family, and going out and socialising – that we now see are so important. It shows you that you should take more time out for your friends and family and appreciate just spending time together.

– Sheila

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