Sarah: care nurse

There are few people who will one day look back at 2020 and not see it changed them in some way. We wanted to find out what lockdown (the first one) was like for a variety of the population, and how they have emerged as different people. One phrase that was said in nearly every interview was “the new normal”. That means many things to many people, as we discovered:

“I am a student nurse, so when lockdown began I felt I had to do something, so I went to work in a care home- partly out of duty, partly to gain some valuable experience. It was a home for dementia patients who were particularly vulnerable and not easy to contain for social distancing. It became clear it would be a challenge. Staff numbers were down due to shielding and illness

“Working in PPE was a challenge: even in March, you’d be dripping in sweat throughout. We had to make a single mask last a shift, so removing them for a sip of water was difficult. The gloves broke all the skin on my hands, that would be constantly sore. All this was necessary, but whatever I expected, whatever I had imagined, well, it was more difficult. I shouldn’t have really been thrown in at the deep end as I was, but at the time this was a major crisis and you just did what you had to do. It was a baptism not of fire, but of alcohol gel!

“It was hard to lose people to Covid – the first resident to die was someone I’d bonded with, and trying to describe the day to day reality to those who had not experienced it was impossible, so I kept it to myself and grieved alone.

“Around June I thought I was going to collapse. It was overwhelming and heartbreaking. We couldn’t send those with covid to hospital and instead had to keep them here and hope for the best, though I never saw a single oxygen bottle on site. I thought I couldn’t continue, I was so tired and my lack of training meant I had huge responsibilities with little in the way of knowing what to do in often impossible situations. This was all for minimum wage.

“I get angry when I hear people moaning about mask-wearing: I wore full PPE in sweltering weather for 14 hours. You can wear a mask for the time you’re in a shop”.

“The people kept me going though. You fall in love with the residents, their beautiful smiles when you help them and you know you have made a difference. You pour your love into them, and when it is returned…well, that’s job satisfaction. No one goes into the care sector for the pay. Working in care changes you, covid adds another level. You see how precious life is: these people with rich lives beforehand, suddenly taken away so easily. Often the ones who appeared stronger succumbed faster than those who seemed weakest: it didn’t seem to have a logic to it.

“Our home suffered, but in comparison to others not so badly. We lost about a quarter of our residents – other homes lost all of theirs, many at least half. I get angry when I hear people moaning about mask-wearing: I wore full PPE in sweltering weather for 14 hours. You can wear a mask for the time you’re in a shop. It’s not about you. It’s about the people I was caring for, and those that are vulnerable.

“That said, I was proud of Beeston and how it rose to the challenge in the early days of the crisis: we all looked after each other, and it was wonderful. People seemed to have got more tetchy now, more judgemental. We have to rediscover that spirit that united us early on. We will probably need it again very soon.”

For privacy reasons we have changed the interviewee’s name

MT

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