If you only had one hour left with your loved one, what would you say…

Submitted by an anonymous staff member working on the Covid ward at St Richard’s Hospital

For three weeks I have been working on a ward of Covid positive patients who are deemed not suitable for escalation beyond steroids and oxygen support.

In the main part I speak to lots of patient families, sharing updates on their condition daily. This can be quite heart breaking, often I found myself preparing families for the inevitable.

For some, those who are capable of talking to their loved ones, I set up video calls. Covid has ripped families apart both in and out of hospital and this physical separation is never more brutal than at the end of life.

Even though my execution of these calls hasn’t always been smooth, witnessing families reunite and the joy this can bring in such times of sadness, has been moving beyond words.

Beyond this, I have been helping out on the ward in any way I can. I’ve comforted and stroked a lot of hands and found that spending time feeding those who no longer have the energy to lift their arms to feed themselves has been sobering.

I have had moments when I’ve cried my eyes out. Witnessing a couple, married for 70 years, having to say their goodbyes broke my heart….. and reading a letter from a lifelong partner to a dying man led me to sob uncontrollably. I tried to hide it from the patient but it was just so sad beyond words I couldn’t keep it together.

It really makes you think, if you only had one hour left with the person you love most in the world, what would you say?

At times I also felt like I became an honorary member of families. I would speak to them so often that I would probably recognise them on the street now.

One patient who was slowly passing away would drift in an out of consciousness. He had an iPad which I would set up slideshows of all his old photos. He loved that and so did I and we did manage to laugh at times even during the darkness.

Covid is savage. We could see when a patient started to deteriorate what their next few days would be like. ‘She’s not going to make it’ were predictions that seemed so stark at first but always turned out correct. At times it felt as if I was watching people drown.

No matter what we did to try and send a lifeline (steroids and oxygen) we just couldn’t grab their hands. And as they struggled for breath, I offered what felt like hollow words of encouragement such as ‘keep fighting’.

And some patients would fight so very hard, reenergised by seeing a video of a great grandchild or hearing their granddaughters voice on the phone, but ultimately what is being asked of them is just too much. It’s like asking someone to run a marathon for days on end and they just cannot do it. No one can do that.

The staff on the wards are such gems – here are just a few:

Leanne, the incredible big hearted nurse who cares for her patients in a bubbly friendly no- nonsense way. If, and when you pass to the next life, she is the sort of nurse you want near you at the end.

Nicky, the calm and level headed ward sister. She can get a 90-year-old out of bed whilst simultaneously give me instructions through the curtains how to get the saturation probe to work. Her impeccable manners and patience seem limitless.

Nurses Chloe, Liz, Rosemary, Antonia and many more, working so very very hard day in day out.

Jane and Sharon, the ward receptionists, who both contracted Covid in the line of duty and gifted it to their families for Christmas. So generous of them 😉

The cleaning gentlemen, who constantly and fastidiously mop and wipe the ward spotlessly clean. What a job in these times.

The physiotherapists and occupational therapist, Cindy, who really get the patients moving forward in their recovery when their inclination is to stay in bed.

Linda, Debs, Amber and all the other lovely Health Care Assistants, who smile and coax the patients through this dreadful experience-washing and toileting them, always with warm words of encouragement.

Claire, the discharge coordinator, who has the unenviable task of finding homes for patients to be safely discharged to. This is a role that seems to have a level of complexity I could not begin to get my head around in three weeks. I’ve passed two degrees with less revision time.

The incredibly talented junior doctors and physician assistants who slog it out tirelessly day in, day out. They are staggeringly capable.

And Jackie and David, the dedicated, committed, thorough, kind and caring Consultant Geriatricians. What a pair. Amazing.

I cannot thank them all enough for giving me the opportunity to support them. I am exhausted after three weeks. I don’t know how they can withstand this intensity long term.

They all deserve our deepest respect. And a medal.

Comments 3

  1. A very moving account of your experience and a lovely tribute to your colleagues…

  2. Hi,
    I work at BGH. as a clerical assistant. (UH Sussex)
    I very sadly lost both of my elderly parents (father late 90’s & mother early 90’s) within first 2 years of Covid.
    I was unable to see my father after he had contracted covid while in hospital.
    Last I saw him was about 2 months before.
    My mother sadly passed away partly due to covid last April, but this time I was able to see her just hours before see passed.
    While I was with her she was already dying & probably unaware I was there . I spoke to her & thanked her for giving me my life & for everything I’ve had from her as I had already said months before. I did have some comfort as I combed her hair as she always liked to be presentable.
    I have found that Covid is so cruel to families who have lost loved ones too.

  3. Thank you for this lovely moving account of your time with us on the ward. Through the challenging times you learnt so much and you made connecting with loved ones easier as we were under so much pressure. Thank you again and you are always welcome to come and work with us again 🥰

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