Healthy conversations for healthy minds
When things get bad, it can be hard to think that any positives might be out there, and harder still to zoom-in on them.
Over the past 25 months, when we are led towards focusing on what we can’t do, those we aren’t able to see, places we mustn’t visit, we can all be forgiven for not realising that some good may also be lurking.
I have always worked in hospitals but knew that one day I would like to step away from acute settings to be a school nurse. COVID accelerated that move – and I’m glad it did!
In my opinion, wellbeing now holds the important place it deserves, and mental health is no longer a taboo topic – that’s definitely a good thing: talking about how we feel can have a positive impact on our daily lives.
I was seconded to work in the Intensive Care Unit over the pandemic – it was mentally, emotionally and physically draining and at times it impacted on mine and my family’s mental health and wellbeing. On the one hand I felt privileged to be helping the most vulnerable (and what a story to tell my grandchildren… one day – I am not that old yet!); on the other hand I felt scared for myself and my family; this was unfamiliar territory, tough decisions were being made, I couldn’t see my family for a few months. The hardest part was Christmas – it’s never quite the same on Zoom! But I had to put those feelings aside: it wasn’t about me – I had to put my Nurse’s hat on!
A story I won’t forget about one patient…
One patient in particular stood out to me and I often find myself thinking about him (us nurses always reflect a lot, it’s drummed into us at university). He was on the Intensive Care Unit for 12 weeks; he was a 48-year-old gentleman with a family and children. He was admitted with COVID and could no longer manage his symptoms at home. Sadly he had to be intubated (meaning a tube is placed to help you breath) and no one knew if he would make it, and unfortunately his family were unable to be with him at his bedside due to COVID restrictions. I cannot imagine how tough that must have been for them. Although I was his nurse, I also had to play the role of his family and at times he needed a lot of support. Thankfully we were able to take him off life support as he was breathing on his own, however he wasn’t out of the woods yet. He had a very long journey ahead and at one stage he wanted to give up.
It was at this point I realised he needed to see his family. I set up FaceTime (as you can imagine, extremely emotional) but it gave him the determination to continue to fight; he wanted to get home, he needed to and had a chance to.
I am pleased to report that on my last working day on the Unit I discharged him to the ward, which meant he was one step closer to home. This was a poetic moment for us both, I had mixed emotions about leaving but was delighted to know I could take him to the ward. When we left the Unit to go to the ward I had to change out of my old scrubs into clean ones. When I appeared to wheel him down to the ward he said “Emma – I didn’t expect you to look like that!” and it suddenly struck me that he hadn’t seen my face for the 12 weeks and I joked asking “are you disappointed?” to which his response was a chuckle! He was tearful and thanked me and couldn’t believe he was leaving and, most importantly, alive. It seemed fitting that that was my last day on the unit.
Why am I sharing this story?
My reason for sharing this with you all is because, at times over the last two years, I have struggled mentally. I saw and experienced the strongest of individuals break, but I also saw bravery, determination, kindness and strength. Sometimes, in tough times, no words are needed and it’s often ok not to be alright. One of the hardest moments was when handing over to the next nurse, waiting to see the relief in the eyes if your patients were still alive – that look will never leave me.
Hospitals weren’t the only place where COVID had a significant impact – I think you’d agree that there were some quite big changes in schools too. With the closure of schools came the drying-up of socialising opportunities for children. My children did go in whilst I was working in the hospital, and I realised how lucky they were to be able to continue socialising with their peers.
Building confidence to talk
The fallout from COVID in children’s mental health and wellbeing is big and in my new role I hope to help build confidence, resilience and always have a friendly and approachable ear, ready to help them on their journey.
At times, children’s concerns can seem small to adults, but to them, their issue is the most important thing and they need to feel listened to and to have their voice heard – it’s important for them to be encouraged to talk! As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.
I have come into this role passionate about making a difference to the children’s lives and wish to help them post-pandemic and in general. Wellbeing in children and staff is paramount to having a happy school/work life.
I am keen for us to develop our wellbeing programme and I am actively working behind the scenes and making small changes to ensure this happens. Watch this space for more to come soon…