Jude Lally is a nurse at Royal Star & Garter’s Surbiton Home. Here, she talks about falling ill with COVID-19, the mental and physical stress caused by lockdown, and her immense pride in the people she works with.
The past few months have been tough, and very sad for us all. I knew that this was going to be something big when the Surbiton Home went into lockdown a week before everyone else. I was actually on jury service at the time and the case I was on was abandoned.
At first, working here during early lockdown was very hard. We were worried about our residents, we were worried about ourselves, and we were worried for our families. Over the weeks and months, we missed simple things like hugging each other, especially when somebody had passed away.
When I got tested it was no surprise it was positive. I was really unwell and there was no doubt in my mind that I had the virus. I had incredible pain in my back and my hips. I was very hot, tight on the chest, I lost the sense of taste and smell, had a bit of a cough. But the main thing for me was it was so painful in my back. I have to say it was very frightening, there was one night where I thought that I might need to go to hospital. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I was just drinking water and eating fruit to try and get some energy.
I tested positive twice and was off work for two weeks. I needed to rest and recover, but I wanted to be at work. I wanted to be doing my job. I knew how hard everybody was working, it was tough. We had a new member of staff that had just started, and I was mentoring them. I was off and I was worried about their induction, I was worried about the residents.
One of the toughest times was the morning when we came in and I was told that a staff member had lost a very close family member. That affected us all very badly. It was really tough for us and I think we all cried in handover. We said to each other: ‘I owe you a hug’. We’ve said that a lot during this time. We didn’t discuss it with the residents because we couldn’t talk about it without choking up ourselves.
Staff have relied so much on each other for support. I didn’t doubt the support for each other was there before, but you saw it again and again.
Not knowing when it was going to be over was really hard. I think I cried every night in the car on the way home because I didn’t want to take the virus home, but sadly I did pass it to my husband, who has now fully recovered. I felt like I needed to ditch my worries, stress and frustrations somewhere on the way. I have a friend who is a nurse in the NHS and we’d be messaging each other for support in the very early hours of the morning. So I had a support network in my friend rather than bringing it all home for my family.
We’ve been supported so much by Royal Star & Garter during this period. Helena, our Home Manager, has been brilliant. She’s been very practical and very informative, she’s rolled her sleeves up and got involved. It’s great for all of us to see that the bosses will muck in. Then we’ve had people driving staff to and from work, keeping them off public transport. Our caterers also allowed us to buy some essentials from them during the time when food was difficult to get for frontline staff. People are going above and beyond all the time. I think the staff were incredibly caring towards the residents, and each other, everyone was very sensitive towards each other’s feelings. Everyone was working very hard because we wanted to do our best.
We always had enough PPE (personal protective equipment), and guidelines on what we should be wearing. That was a big thing for us.
Right now I feel so tired, I think we’re all tired. I think everyone would love to jump on a plane and go somewhere warm and sit on a beach. But we all know it’s not going to happen. I’m glad that period is over, I’m not looking forward to the next spike, but we are ready and prepared.
Given our experience, we should be reassured as we have been through this already. know how we acted as a team. The Home has the PPE and procedures in place. Having had the experience means we will be better equipped physically and mentally to cope.
From a nursing point of view, it’s always been about the testing and this will be important again if there’s a second spike. It means that we know all the residents are safe and all the staff are safe. If someone tests positive we are able to act quickly to protect residents.
We’ve definitely learned lessons. If we go into lockdown again we have Zoom and video calls already set up. They have been great for residents and relatives to connect them with their families and support mental well-being.
There’s a resignation, but we coped last time and we can cope again. We have that experience. Right now we see glimpses of normality, like family visits which have been happening outside or residents sitting together for dinner – with all the appropriate social distancing in place. These are positive signs and are what I’m really looking forward to, that light at the end of the tunnel.