“They can’t have any family beside them when they die.” Says an NHS front line worker over the phone to me. She sounds tired, exhausted even. Who can blame her though? Palliative care is no easy job ordinarily, let alone in the midst of a global health pandemic. She continues her point.
“So I’m there with them to make sure they’re not alone in their last moments. We can’t have much close contact with them though. We just comfort them as much as we can. We make sure they know that they’re not alone.”
This information is upsetting to hear, I can’t lie. However, the way she speaks of and describes the patients suffering from COVID-19, and the humanity she brings to their situation, means I am, at least, comforted by the fact that these patients are clearly in good hands.
“Are you getting enough protective equipment?” I ask. There is a pause.
“No.” She replies. “They’re running out fast. Some of the equipment doesn’t even fit us, the plastic aprons are too small. The masks don’t fit. However, everyone in the hospital is doing their best. We’re all working hard to make life easier for one another, especially when we’re hit the hardest over the coming weeks.” She pauses again. “ One thing I’m worried about though, is what if we run out of the pain relief for the patients? I’m worried that if cases increase we might not have enough pain relief for all the patients .” It is a difficult thought to have. The government has assured NHS workers that they will get the equipment they need, and are working hard to get it to them, but it seems that alongside the testing they are also promising NHS frontline workers (in abundance), what workers really want from the government, now more than ever, is honesty. Not false hope. Although NHS workers are provided with PPE (personal protective equipment), it is quickly running out. The nurse also spoke of the communications between the government and hospitals outside of London, and her desperation for honest communication.
“Our PPE has been downgraded too, one moment we’re told one thing about what we need to wear, the next another. It’s hard to catch up with it all. We just want to know to know the truth. When will we get the right equipment? And why, amidst a pandemic, are we having to wear protective equipment that does not fit us? Our PPE being downgraded means that despite hundreds of people dying a day, the people who are trying to save them, are not getting the right equipment to protect themselves. We feel very confused, and I think this confusion increases nurses’ fears surrounding COVID-19.”
The government has said that communications have been good, yet many hospital staff members have been left in the dark about what to expect. Nineteen nurses have already died from COVID-19.
“I’ve come to the realisation that I will get it. I will get COVID-19. I’ve come to terms with that now. We all probably will, at the hospital I mean. The question is, if the nurses and doctor’s keep getting it. Who will take over?” She asks me.
“Another thing. The nurses on the COVID wards can’t leave the wards they’re on, so food is delivered to them, us, but we still have to pay for it.” After learning this, I think it’s fair to raise the question. Should they have to pay for their food amidst a health crisis?
I ask how many patients she’s been dealing with herself over the past few days.
“Around about’s 40.” She says.
“What about mental health?” I ask. “Can you get the support you need at the moment?”
“There is a helpline, and they have been good at directing people to it, but the thing we have to worry about isn’t short term impact but long term. Some nurses and Doctors will come out of this with PTSD. When you become a nurse, you have ways of dealing with things. You learn to cope. However, with the amount of patients we’re dealing with, you can’t use your techniques as well as you can ordinarily. There are just so many people dying. It’s exhausting. It’s emotional.” I agree with her on the phone, attempting to sound comforting.
“As well as mental health, I’d like to say that many front line healthcare workers are from other countries. They’re here to help save the lives of the people in this country. Some of them don’t have any family members in the country, but they’re here, saving lives.” It is certainly a sobering thought.
“It can be tough at the moment on the wards. Nurses and Doctors are such strong people, but recently we’ve had to release through crying. I’ve cried at work, and I don’t usually do that. I’m most upset because I think every person deserves a good death, they deserve dignity, after all with the age group I deal with, they’ve been on earth for sixty plus years, but sometimes, I can’t lie to you, with all the numbers of patients coming in, we just can’t give them the individual attention they deserve. There’s also the paperwork, with all the patients coming in and the focus on them, there is a backlog of paperwork. “
“I’ve got to go.” She says kindly. Despite the solemn nature of our discussions, much happiness has come from our conversation too.
“If there is anything that these unusual times have taught us, is that we are, ultimately, a kind country. When it has come down to it, communities and people have put political opinions aside and helped each other. Everyone has been a little kinder than they were before.” I add to this by asking –
“Isn’t it a little sad that a divided country has come together over such a sad thing – a pandemic?” “Better now than never. Let’s just hope that when life returns to something slightly more normal, we’ll remember these times. We’ll hold each other a little tighter, and keep the community spirit up.” A hugely inspiring note to leave our discussion with, and a lovely reminder that there is still hope for the future.