I’ve seen people having to say goodbye to their loved one, knowing they would die alone

Jane Osborne
Jane Osborne

Clinical Nurse Specialist at St Clare Hospice

As part of the Our Frontline campaign to support the mental health of all those out working to protect us during the coronavirus crisis, we’ll be regularly sharing stories, tips and other thoughts about what life is like for them at the moment, in their own words.

Jane Osborne is Clinical Nurse Specialist at St Clare Hospice. Here she shares her experience of working on the frontline, the ongoing pressure on nurses and how her team have been coping throughout the pandemic. 

As the pandemic hit, we quickly tried to get to grip with working in a new way, wearing PPE to keep everyone safe and working out new processes. Now, PPE is part of the routine and we’re used to the additional checks we make before visiting a patient, giving ‘virtual hugs’ instead, and smiling with my eyes to show I care!

My role as a palliative care practitioner is always emotionally charged. As a nurse I try not to take on the anxieties and pain of my patients, but it’s been hard to see some things that have happened because of Covid. It’s difficult to hear people’s stories, knowing that families are missing out on making memories at this important time in their life. That’s what I’m really struggling with, seeing this repeatedly – and that makes it really hard emotionally.

Yes, I am a nurse, but also a mother and a daughter

Visiting restrictions mean I’ve seen people having to say goodbye to their loved one as they were leaving home in an ambulance, knowing they would die alone​Dealing with death and grief: Dying Matters PDF COVID-19 is causing many people to die before their time. This can be very distressing for those who work with vulnerable people, who not only may feel bereaved themselves but may also have to support patients' friends and family. This guide can help.Free By: Hospice UK / Dying Matters View resource in hospital. That is very difficult to process; these situations have stayed with me, especially when young children are involved. Some colleagues experienced family members dying together. Although we are used to dealing with death, these are not usual for us and it takes its toll.

It’s really important to remember that medical practitioners have their own personal issues going on as well. Yes, I am a nurse, but also a mother and a daughter, and I have all the same concerns about my parents and children as everyone else. Except I am also going out and caring for people who need help at the end of their lives, regardless of the symptoms they may have. I have a duty of care to my patients and they deserve the best care I can provide.

Jane at work in the hospice

I worry about my own health too, and what I might bring home to my family. In recent months it has stopped me from being as close to my parents as usual. I just want to be careful around them but it’s taking away the precious times that I have with them. Covid is just so cruel.

I know I’m not alone in coping with these anxieties and pressures, and support from initiatives like Our Frontline is so important right now. They provide round-the-clock mental health and bereavement support for those working on the frontline against COVID-19 at ourfrontline.org

We’ll see more depression now that it’s getting cold and dark earlier

Thoughts of winter approaching, cases rising and increased restrictions fill me with trepidation; both on a personal level and as a nurse. Winter will have an impact on our patients’ mental health; we’ll see more depression now that it’s getting cold and dark earlier. More people will be isolated and lonely; we are already getting people calling us more and I expect this to increase. We’re very busy as a team, and seeing increased need in the community since the start of the pandemic.

As nurses, we have clinical supervision and can talk to our supervisors about things that we’ve seen and experienced that stay with us. This, and the support of my colleagues, is so important. We have a morning catch up to offload and if I’m struggling I always open up and share, they are always so supportive. I find just being with my colleagues an amazingly rewarding experience. Everyone is just so positive, trying hard to keep the team going.

A care worker helps a resident to use a mobile phone.

When I look at my nursing colleagues across healthcare, I feel very lucky to be working in the hospice sector, because it is so supportive and understanding of the mental health impact of dealing with death.

St Clare Hospice is an amazing place with an amazing team of people working here; I’m very lucky. It’s brilliant to see the Are You OK campaign from Nursing Times raising awareness of the mental health pressures and needs of nurses working on the frontline. I hope that this campaign shows nurses across the UK that they’re not alone in the challenges they’re facing and that there is support available.

Read more stories from workers on the frontline during the pandemic.

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