Working in a hospice during a pandemic was a life-changing experience for trainee nurse Becky Saunders. Her experiences at ellenor were so profound that she pledged to take on a gruelling challenge to raise vital funds.
The 33-year-old Gravesend resident, who aims to walk 65 miles over two days as part of the Isle of Wight Ultra Challenge, was inspired by ellenor during time spent on the ward as a student nurse.
“I did six weeks there in 2019, and last year I was part of the flexi-bank team of staff from March until the summer, during the first wave of the pandemic,” she says.
“It was pretty daunting and incredibly sad, especially as the relatives were unable to visit because of Covid restrictions. Sometimes it was just me and the patient in the room. It was something else; it was one on one.
“I was especially moved by one end-of-life patient, who remembered my name from the day before even though she was in and out of consciousness. I was the only familiar face she had to cling to. I went home and cried because of that one simple thing -- it took me so much by surprise.
“I was a police officer for 11 years so I am used to intense situations but I had never experienced anything as profound as being on a Covid ward in a hospice.
“It wasn’t until I got home after a shift that I started thinking about it and wondering when my turn would come, when I would catch it. From a nursing point of view, it made me 100 per cent more resilient.”
Fortunately Becky, who is in her second year studying nursing at Canterbury Christchurch University, did not contract the disease, but she worked extra shifts to cover for colleagues who were not so lucky.
She says: “My time there also increased my awareness of holistic care. They offer so much more than nursing. I’ve always known about the hospice at Northfleet, but I didn’t really know about other things ellenor offers, such as childrens’ services and wellbeing for patients and their families.
“The charity is a provider of gold standard care and to achieve that it needs an adequate number of staff, and funds to keep the care at its highest level. Any of us might require that service at some time in our lives. ellenor is in all of our hearts because we all say to ourselves that next time it could be me.”
Becky, an ex-international discus thrower who spent most of her teenage years at Dartford Harriers Athletics Club, is already in training for her trek on July 28. She will be part of a challenge to walk, jog or run around the island’s coastal path. After spending her summers on the Isle of Wight as a child, she is familiar with its steep hills, undulations and stunning views.
She says: “I walked from Gravesend to Sittingbourne the other day. I came back on the train and nearly couldn’t get off at my stop – I was almost in tears because I was so exhausted. But every time I do a training walk I post it on social media to raise awareness – and people have already started donating. I’m well on the way to the £600 target I have set myself. That seemed a realistic goal considering so many people are facing hardship due to the pandemic."
Her family, who live in Meopham, have also been extremely supportive – even leaving cups of tea outside their houses for when she passes on one of her training sessions.
She says: “I just think the hospice is such an amazing place and I know how desperate they are for funds, especially as it has been so difficult to fundraise during the pandemic. For me, end of life care seems crucial.
“I think every student nurse should get a palliative care placement. Dying is not a subject a lot of people want to talk about. The unknown is scary, but when you see people having a good death it changes your perception. When you see how expert the care is at hospices like ellenor, it takes away the fear.
“I’ve been through some pretty bad times in my life so I don’t want anyone I come into contact with to experience that. I’m protective of other people by nature. My time as a police detective also means I’m a problem solver.
“I just think it’s so important to increase awareness and to raise as much money as possible because if we lost such a vital service it would be diabolical. We all need to pull together as a community and I think we do all get that. ellenor needs a little beacon saying ‘don’t forget about us".