Updated: Nov 1, 2021
This beautifully worded article was shared with us by Palliative Care Nurse in the midst of the 2020 pandemic. The piece talks openly about how the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the desperate need for better protection of our healthcare workers and hope that this exposure will drive the change required.
‘It’s been a tough year. We can all agree on that. The pandemic is a catastrophic commonality that has managed to unify citizens of all countries. Videos of hope, inspiration, desperation, kindness and loss appear on social media and the news. Conversations in homes that try to make sense of numbers and statistics as they roll off of the tongues of news reporters standing outside of public buildings. Most of us have an awakened sense of gratitude for small acts of kindness; the search for how to make other lives better; and the self-sacrifice that some are willing to give to ensure the wellbeing of strangers and the impact of these ripples on their lives.
The sharpened insights of 2020 were based on the flashbulb moments that only tragedy on a global scale can create…but were they missing from 2019? Not for some. There has always been a thread of bright humanity running through each country; a tired, undervalued yet unbelievably resilient workforce of people that prize care and empathy over almost everything else. I am of course talking about healthcare workers, the people that we have needed the most and seemingly forget about the quickest when we retreat from emergency status.
The lived experience of these incredible individuals can be a huge mental burden in a career where you pledge to act with integrity, beneficence, equity and justice, putting the needs of others before your own. That unwavering dedication has been tested to the extremes in 2020 and requires thought and safeguarding by the public. Nurses in particular have an interesting public persona, as guardians of public health in an ever-present vocation that will sacrifice their all for their professional responsibility. But is this fair to ask?
If you were to go to war, would you be expected to risk your life to protect others? Yes. Would you be expected to bring along your family and put them at equal risk? No – at least, I would hope not and yet that is exactly what the nurses of this country have done during Covid. They have put their own lives and long-term health on the line along with their families’. Some have tried to mitigate this and distance themselves by moving out of their own homes or staying away from their children or elderly parents, becoming lonely social pariahs whose focus is work. Work that shatters them physically and mentally.
I trained as a palliative nurse, I am used to work that involves a regular relationship with dying and death. It is not a specialism for everyone and understandably involves witnessing suffering at times, honest and difficult conversations and advanced planning to lessen the fear and impact of that journey. As a nurse, by the end of this process I want to know that I have done everything in my power to achieve a peaceful death that can be remembered by families as symptom free and dignified when looked back upon. The nurses of this country in wards, ICU units, care homes and community settings have become palliative nurses by the sheer power of a virus that swept up 2020 in its grip. No choices, no time to think, just an expected call to action to protect strangers from harm and suffering. Some healthcare workers have paid with their health and some with their lives.
In some cases, they were without the armour of PPE and watching as colleagues would be with them one shift and then absent with symptoms the next. I am sure that the empty spaces at morning handover left a worrying question that had to be quietened and overcome for many. I am sure countless WhatsApp groups have been formed to support, virtually hug, share messages of hope and counsel colleagues in their fight. I am equally sure that sweet gifs of exhausted puppies have been used to mask the reality of being unable to explain feelings at the end of a day spent in the sensory isolation of PPE and watching patients struggle for air.
You cannot be kept company in your own mind. Nurses are amazing, resourceful, surprising people….at least all the ones I have the pleasure of knowing are. They are tough when they need to be, and gentle, empathetic and caring to the most vulnerable. They are patient and self-sacrificing but they are also humans with opinions, hurt and anger as well as being advocates for high standards and change where it is needed. They deserve protection and to be valued. They deserve pay reflective of their responsibility and toil, safety in their work so that they may carry it out without risking their own health and lives. They deserve the kind of gratitude that acknowledges their outstanding service in our communities but also plans for their continued protection and place in our futures. They deserve funding and resources that allows education and development for individuals so who are intent on improving the outcome of others.
We can achieve this through services such as Nurse Lifeline where those voices can be heard through peer support and amplified in shared experiences through blogs and podcasts.
I understand the message in Clap for Carers but I have to question who this is for, how this identifies these terrible injustices and sacrifice, and how it ensures that nurses will never be asked to make such heart-breaking decisions again? A pandemic can be unprecedented but even in my training as a student nurse, they are very much an expectation at regular intervals throughout history. They are calculable emergencies that can be prepared for, funded and ultimately end up costing less economic damage and most importantly lives when emerged from. Clap for Carers was a beautiful gesture and I am sure each person clapping, cheering or banging a saucepan in their street felt uplifted in that moment. We are in this together!! The reality is that Nurses and Healthcare workers cannot run on good will and gestures alone and they will be fractured and healing for years to come.
The cessation and hopeful control of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021 will sweep everyone up in a communal hope for better times. I hope that with that relief we keep alive the memory and realisation of what the nurses of this country have achieved, and what it has cost. The NHS is not a charity, it is a vital and fundamental institution which ensures the safety and care of its citizens. When we contextualise the impact of 2020 we must remember that small acts of charity, gestures and kindness saved us, but they are the ignition to bigger things.
So, let’s stand with all nurses, healthcare workers and NHS workers properly as they heal, let’s advocate for them when they have given so much to us, let’s be part of change and peaceful activism that draws attention to their needs and be their shield so that they heal, thrive, continue and are with us for the next emergency that the twenty first century has to offer. 2020 was a hard lesson. Let’s show that we have learnt for the future.’