How COVID-19 broke my heart

Tintu Tom, Paula du Rand and Kitty Chen

Dr Paula du Rand, Teaching and Learning Care Homes

I grew up on a farm near a small town in the Freestate province in South Africa. I am the youngest of three daughters. My sisters always talked about how good I had it – no war, freedom, lovely student life, lots of opportunities and spoiled by my parents. They could never have imagined that in 2020, I would be fighting in a war against a virus.

What started as a working holiday to the UK in 2003 (during a sabbatical from my post as Professor of Nursing at the University of the Freestate in South Africa), ended up with me as the Manager of Kineton Manor Nursing Home in Warwickshire. Again, a wonderful opportunity was presented to me!

Then, at the end of 2019, the coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China. A problem that at first seemed a world away, was soon upon us. In January 2020, I started my fight against the virus.

Before any official lockdown instructions from government or industry guidance, I decided to implement a lockdown at Kineton Manor Nursing Home as a preventative measure. My battle plan included closing the nursing home to visitors and minimising the residents leaving the home for non-essential reasons. Infection prevention measures were upscaled, as well as handwashing techniques and other hygiene measures. A strict protocol was put in place for staff entering and exiting the building. No access was granted to site visitors from external companies and post, parcels and all deliveries were left outside the building.

Then my heart started to break – my dear husband who led a very protective life was admitted to hospital. Although he was tested negative for Covid 19 all symptoms indicated towards the virus. He became seriously ill, was very weak, and unresponsive. I was called to see him to say goodbye – my heart was breaking. At the same time five of my nurses tested positive for the virus. There was only me and one nurse left to look after our 52 residents. (We were unable to get any agency nurses at this time) and I also had to manage the nursing home as well as doing wound dressings, administer medicine, accompanying the Doctor on his rounds and informing families about the welfare of their loved ones. With the help of 1 nurse and 2 nursing associates in training, I had to cover day and night for fourteen days until the five nurses came back to work, fortunately full of positive energy. My husband was still clinging on to life and it was very much touch and go with him, but he was still alive!!

Then some of the residents started to show symptoms and our dedicated and supportive GP arranged for them to be tested. We also took part in a pilot scheme with the RNHA and had the opportunity to test all of our residents. Warwickshire County Council was extremely helpful, organising the testing of our staff and delivering much needed PPE immediately when we only have enough to last for 24 hours. Unfortunately, our regular suppliers were unable to deliver what we needed.

Again, my heart bled further when some of our residents died from this virus. It was heart breaking to say goodbye again and again. We managed to let their loved ones see them and say their goodbyes and we gave them the best care that we could. 

Then another disappointment, one of the nurses who had been on annual leave came back only for a short time and then handed in her resignation. She had worked here for 8 years and had lots of opportunities to improve her nursing skills. However, in spite of being supported, she felt that she could no longer put her life in danger. I could not believe that a nurse did not want to follow Florence Nightingale’s example and go to the front-line during war time. This disappointment caused another bleed to my heart and to help me heal and not to worry about my residents, my staff and my seriously ill husband, I tried to put it out of my mind by concentrating on caring for the residents and staff.

Then another heart break, one of my nurses was admitted to ITU as well as one of my carers; we were all devastated. There was nearly nothing left in my heart to break. The dedicated staff were continuing to fight, and they inspired me to keep going on. All my dedicated staff fought hard against this virus – supporting each other on a daily basis. I am fortunate to have a very loving and caring team. One morning in the regular briefing they asked if we could say a daily prayer for strength and wellbeing for the residents, our colleagues and also my husband, which we have done ever since.

Then the healing process started! The staff who were struck down with the virus got better and returned to work and five of our residents who had been tested positive recovered and became symptom free. My husband became conscious and is slowly recovering and the nurse came out of intensive care and is now recovering at home. The carer is stable but still in intensive care and we are praying for her recovery. All of our residents are symptom free and my staff are healthy. We are slowly, slowly starting to admit new residents. Did we win the war? No, but we are all stronger and we will carry on fighting for our dear residents and staff.

I am so thankful for all nurses and carers and other staff in care homes who were willing to put their lives in danger to protect our older generation who deserve the best in their final years. I am proud to work in a Nursing Home – proud of all managers, nurses, carers and staff who work in care homes who fought and are still fighting against this terrible virus.

Comments are closed.