Blog post -
Inpatient Unit (IPU) nurses: Sharing the emotional load with patients and their families
In these unprecedented times, as a charity expert in palliative care, we continue to play a vital role in supporting our local community, our NHS and healthcare colleagues. We have a large team of healthcare professionals, support staff and volunteers, all of whom share one goal. This is to give every child or adult patient and their families the expert care and support we would want for our own loved ones and, when the time comes, an end that is peaceful, comfortable and dignified. Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, that dedication is unwavering and the our team has adapted and pulled together as never before. Pivotal to the cohesion of the team is Lisa Ball, Staff Nurse in our Inpatient Unit (IPU). Here, she reflects on the impact Covid-19 has had on the patients she cares for, their families and her team.
“I hope that the fact I’ve worked my way up through the nursing ranks gives me real perspective on what it takes to nurse effectively and compassionately. I began as a healthcare assistant, worked in the acute sector in Tunbridge Wells Hospital, but – as a Gravesend girl – I wanted to put something back into my local community. Plus, I know work doesn’t get more hands-on than it does at ellenor and that the ethos here is all about taking time with patients and their families, both to treat them medically and to understand their needs as individuals. I took up my role as staff nurse on the IPU in March. Then Covid-19 struck.
“While my role will always be to support patients and their families medically, we’re also here to explain things to them and to make sure they understand the options open to them. Never has this been more vital than it is now, when Covid-19 has thrown so much into chaos. Our patients and their families need the reassurance that we’re with them every step of the way, no matter what.
“We’ve been so busy as a team that the only thing we can do is keep on going. We’re still smiling behind our masks, but this has been an incredibly steep learning curve – from getting to grips with the practicalities of wearing full PPE to handling our own fears. Anything we as staff are enduring, though, is nothing compared to what patients and their families are going through. Their Covid-19 -enforced social distancing from one another is incredibly difficult and, understandably, emotions are riding high. At least relatives can now come in to see loved ones under carefully controlled conditions– but for some that seems even harder: they can be together, yet they can’t touch. And – as has been the case for relatives of some of our patients who’ve come to us from hospital – seeing someone for the first time having not seen then for six weeks can be very traumatic indeed. It’s our job as caring professionals to help everyone handle these situations and the emotions they unleash as best they possibly can. Some of our patients, who have taken the decision to shield themselves to the very end, will die with only our staff here to support them. The nursing staff are fine-tuned to changes in a patient’s medical condition, so we can alert the family the minute these occur and encourage them to come in if necessary. Never has our care and compassion been more important.
“What’s been particularly brilliant is the speed at which we’ve been able to get our inpatients back home when that’s where they’ve wanted to be – one man was back with his wife and daughters within eight hours. And the outside agencies such as occupational therapists have worked with us to ensure everything necessary – a hospital-standard bed, for instance – is in place at home as quickly as possible, too, meaning it’s practical and safe for the patient to return.
“With patients and families often feeling powerless, we’re doing all we can to sit down with those who come in and talk through all their concerns. But we’re spending far more time on the phone rather than face-to-face, which is so frustrating for everyone. Quite understandably, patients and their families offload to us – that’s what we’re here for – but it does get very tough at times. I’ve been sat with my head in my hands crying, and someone else in the team will pop by with a cup of tea and just listen. It’s listening that’s the absolute essential skill for all of us at the moment, I think.
“The sheer scale of this pandemic has meant new, often frightening, circumstances, even on top of the life-limiting conditions our patients are dealing with. The fact that ellenor has coped, is coping and will continue to cope with professionalism and kindness even in these very hardest of times makes me know how strong we are as a team and gives me faith in the future. We are here for our patients and their families and for one another, and we always will be“.
To find out more information about our services, please go our website: www.ellenor.org