• 30 October 2020
  • 10 min read

A Thought Provoking Human Tale Of Nurses & Care Staff During The Covid Pandemic

  • Ian Donaghy
    Speaker & Author
    • Matt Farrah
    • Mat Martin
    • Aubrey Hollebon
    • Richard Gill
    • Patricia Hare
  • 2
  • 1243
"Never had the word "unprecedented" been used to such an unprecedented level, beaten only by the use of “a new normal", whatever that is."

Keynote speaker, and British Care Award Winner, Ian Donaghy, walks us through the plight of Nurses and Care Workers with a sobering, yet uplifting exploration of selflessness during a crisis.

Topics covered in this article

Guinea Pigs In Masks And Aprons

The Media Was Fuelling Our Fear

Just Another Flu?

Care Staff Jumped Into Action

Selfless Loyalty

“It’s Safe To Go In The Water”

The Outside World Never Saw What Was Happening In Care

They Did It Because They Had To

Guinea Pigs In Masks And Aprons

On New Year’s Eve 2019, everyone crossed hands to bluff their way through Auld Lang Syne, hoping as ever that nobody would notice you don't know Robert Burns's words.

Imagine if someone had said, “Enjoy the next 12 weeks because, after that, pubs and restaurants will close their doors."

"Live music and trips to the theatre will soon be a distant memory."

"Cuddling will become a thing of the past and you will turn into the grumpiest supply-teacher ever, trying to take on Year 8 Maths that you last did when Bros were popular and never really understood in the first place. You are about to become hermits, home-schooling for six months! Happy New Year.”

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Back then, 'Corona' was an also-ran lager and ‘Zoom’ was a lolly from the 1970s with an unpleasant banana bit that always tasted wrong.

Nobody used the terms "key workers" or "shielding", and "social distancing" would have been deemed anti-social and stand-offish.

Only people with History A-level knew what "furloughed" meant and PPE was something you thought the bank had mis-sold you.

The Media Was Fuelling Our Fear

Just when you believed you could predict tomorrow, the world stopped.

Never had the word "unprecedented" been used to such an unprecedented level, beaten only by the use of “a new normal", whatever that is.

On March 20th, 2020, we were lined up to go into an exam where nobody had read any books, nobody had any idea what would be on the exam paper and not even the teachers knew the answers!

We were about to set out on a journey with only a blank page and a pen to draw the map as we took each tentative step - a challenging time, sailing uncharted waters, for everyone.

Disturbing proof that if science were a man, he would still be in nappies, and ignorance didn’t feel like bliss.

The media was fuelling our fear with every opportunity.

Every day, the news could have had the motto, "if we’re not scaring you to death, we’re not doing our job”.

Uncertainty was the only thing certain.

Just Another Flu?

Never has the country’s labours been so unfairly distributed.

Two groups… one in isolation, vowing to use this as a chrysalis period of home improvement, baking, tie-dyeing, learning new skills and writing books (like this one!).

In the other were those looking after our most vulnerable in conditions akin to a battlefield for 20% more pay than those completing Netflix!

I felt guilty as many were running on empty while I was essentially enjoying a Center Parcs holiday at home.

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Many thought this Corona thing was just another flu.

They had had flus come and go… they’ve done Noro… they’ve done lockdowns, deep cleans, rinse and repeat.

They’d got through those... why would this be any different.

Then reality began to bite.

This wasn’t War of the Worlds on the radio a rouse by Orson Wells… this really was something different.

Care Staff Jumped Into Action

It wasn’t a problem seeing it happen in Italy, China or Spain but then it started sharing OUR postcodes and people were getting ill and dying.

Would we die?

Would this take us?

We were at war… during peacetime… with an invisible killer.

One care home in Spain had all of the staff desert leaving the people they had previously cared for to die.

That wouldn’t and couldn’t happen here.

Care staff jumped into action sleeves rolled up at their care homes - all hands on deck regardless of what the rota said.

Plans had to be hatched quickly.

As soon as the uninvited guest entered the building with one positive test, they needed a strategy to keep people apart and safe.

Emotionally led support was quickly replaced with masks and tasks.

People using over-exaggerated eyebrow raising to show they were happy.

People tell you that the eyes are the windows to the soul but your face and smile that is the front door that always welcomes you inside to make you feel welcome and safe.

Houses were turned into ad hoc Covid wards.

Some stepped forward… some stepped back, some took leave, some shielded understandably for their health or their family’s underlying conditions… others ran to the hills never to be seen again.

But others stepped up in a heartbeat… without question… putting the needs of the people they care for long before anyone else’s.

Selfless Loyalty

Selfless loyalty from people who never knew if they would live or die… guinea pigs with face masks, gloves and aprons uncertain not just day to day but hour to hour.

They went to the nurses for answers.

They went to their managers for answers.

They looked on websites for answers.

They watched TV for answers.

To only find more questions or guesswork at best.

Staff were isolated.

Kept apart only working in one area.

Everyone locked down.

Long shifts.

Back to back shifts.

People dropping like flies as fewer people to cover the shifts.

Tired didn’t quite cover it.

Just like soldiers they just had each other with no escape.

There were niggles.

Spats. They fell out… and then fell back in again.

Like families… there are ups and downs, but it always resulted in an aggregate win.

Couples worked shifts together living in each other’s pockets… one pair wrote their wills before going in aged 25!

“It’s Safe To Go In The Water”

People started getting poorly… some died who weren’t ready to die.

Staff who had cared for them for years couldn’t say goodbye.

Families were facetimed regularly to keep in touch.

Tensions rose as people couldn’t see loved ones, but people trusted those caring for their second family.

Teams were fused together.

They knew exactly what the others were thinking.

Telepathy and empathy working hand in hand.

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What do YOU think?

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A siege mentality formed like “you and me against the world.”

As Boris told people to go out to half price restaurants and fill the pubs these care staff looked on at the telly in disbelief.

Like the Mayor in Jaws telling the crowds it was “safe to go in the water” when the shark was still out there hungry…

Guidance followed misguidance followed guesswork followed “2 metres” then “1 metre apart but careful”, “go to work”, “stay at home”, “don’t wear a mask they make no difference”, then “you must wear a mask.”

As Johnson’s advisor galivanted up to Barnard Castle a feeling of injustice ensued with people now looking for loopholes to break the rules rather than adhere to them and hopefully stop a magic R number rising.

The Outside World Never Saw What Was Happening In Care

The outside world never saw what was happening in care.

These people felt alone… ignored…

Deaths in care homes weren’t included in the statistics.

Perhaps this spoke volumes… Not included means excluded.

Ignored.

Unimportant.

Yet the people keeping our most vulnerable safe.

Some did die of Covid, others from the social isolation that Covid provision created… but many survived it and are now fit and well resilient in their design… built to last.

Then Boris came out to blame the care homes after applauding them and banging pots and pans in the street every Thursday.

A kick in the teeth for people who had given more than their all.

But people who in work in care don’t look to politicians for recognition… they don’t even bow to a CQC clipboard… they look at the eyes in front of them.

THE most important assessment of all.

THOSE eyes are your audience… your assessors… the reason you are there... for THEM.

Covid broke many.

Tears were shared over many a cuppa.

When sunflowers can’t find the sunlight, we are told they face one another and that is what happened behind these closed… like pairs of playing cards they leant on one another to hold each other up.

Handy men & maintenance teams no longer were mending beds, bulbs and sinks and were mending people as they came out for a breather as they made them laugh and feel human again before diving back in like pearl divers for another long dive into the depths of Covid.

Were the people who threw their hats into the ring the heroes of this piece and more valuable than those who looked after the healthy ones?

Imagine if they hadn’t….

Should people sailing the uncharted Covid waters have been singled out?

As a provider you are damned if you treat them differently and damned if you treat everyone the same.

Sometimes you just need to keep people involved with a txt, a call or a facetime, a little note to say how much they matter to avoid feeling taken for granted.

Lessons were learnt daily.

Every step was a learning step.

But what of the second wave… what if it comes back?

We will be ready.

No longer the devil we don’t know but the devil we know.

Yes it is still invisible and unpredictable but we know so much more.

Many are scarred and wounded by it but are strangely fused together.

They Did It Because They Had To

None of these people are just employees clocking in and clocking out…overjoyed at the limitless overtime as one carer said “It’s not like we did it for the money.

There was nothing to spend money on… another jigsaw or an occasional Chinese takeaway!”.

They did it because they had to.

They had no choice.

One girl aged 17 was studying her A levels and did 5 nights a week living away from family and doing her coursework when not in mask, apron and gloves.

As one team leader commented “it’s like she’s been here before… her Mum and Dad did well with her.”

High praise indeed but comments like this are common.

Will they make the news?

No, so when asked if these people would go back in if required.

“In a heartbeat.” “Definitely.” “No question.”

“As hard as it was…we owe to them. They’re our family in here.”

This just shows that there is a new pandemic out there in the world of care that won’t require a vaccine… kindness.

We may only be at half time but let’s hope the final score reads:

COVID 19 - KINDNESS 20

Find out more about Ian and his work here.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below - let's chat there!

Oh, and please Like this article to let me know you enjoyed it - thank you!

About the author

  • Ian Donaghy
    Speaker & Author

Ian is a keynote speaker and author with a diverse range of skills and experience. Winner of Care Trainer of the Year at The British Care Awards and accomplished presenter who is able to convey motivational, inspiring & emotive messages through his presentations & film making. Author of A POCKETFUL OF KINDNESS, DEAR DEMENTIA & THE MISSING PEACE.

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  • Ian Donaghy
    Speaker & Author

About the author

  • Ian Donaghy
    Speaker & Author

Ian is a keynote speaker and author with a diverse range of skills and experience. Winner of Care Trainer of the Year at The British Care Awards and accomplished presenter who is able to convey motivational, inspiring & emotive messages through his presentations & film making. Author of A POCKETFUL OF KINDNESS, DEAR DEMENTIA & THE MISSING PEACE.

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    • Patricia Hare 24 days ago
      Patricia Hare
    • Patricia Hare
      24 days ago

      What an amazing read. It made me cry as it was so accurate and stirred up so many emotions/ memories. I ... read more

    • Matt Farrah 28 days ago
      Matt Farrah
    • Matt Farrah
      28 days ago

      Thanks Ian. A great editorial addition to our pages!