CONTINUING OUR NEW SERIES: COVID-19 AND THE PALLIATIVE CARE RESPONSE
Today, Dr Ebun Abarshi, a locum associate specialist doctor in palliative medicine in the United Kingdom, looks back on her experiences of working at a hospice during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Describing this as a period of discovery and recovery, Ebun touches on some of what she gained, the impact on staff and family and how she coped in the face of personal tragedy.
I had just returned to the UK from holiday when the coronavirus pandemic struck – all hopes of easing back into work were quickly thwarted. As the country went into ‘lockdown’, I decided to switch jobs rather abruptly to work closer to home where I applied to work in a local hospice.
Adapting to the new normal
On my very first working day, there was a formal staff briefing about changes to the then normal pattern of working and training on how to use the new Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We shared material and human resources across the region, and this included best practices and policies. With time, I mastered the art of surviving unending Zoom meetings. Yet, those meetings were vital to updating our knowledge in line with the latest government guidance and preparing us on how best to respond to the rapidly evolving pandemic – but sitting through four long sessions on a Tuesday was thoroughly exhausting!
To ensure social distancing, teams were separated, and I was relocated to the gym – away from the inpatient unit. I felt ‘isolated’ in many ways and sought creative ways of adapting. Working from a different ‘site’ allowed me to meet and appreciate nonclinical staff members who play a huge role in keeping the service going. I worked in proximity to the fundraising, administrative and housekeeping teams, and got to know a few of them well.
One of the things that meant a lot to us was the support from families and the general public. Throughout there was a constant supply of flowers and household items for staff. Thursday was a special day with a public gesture of appreciation to frontline workers. Various groups would visit the hospice – from members of the local Gurdwara Temple beating their drums in the hospice foyer, to local firefighters. I especially remember the family with a baby in a pram who patiently waited at the door of the hospice until I’d finished my shift to say, ‘thank you doctor’. That moved me to tears as I drove home.
The impact on personal and family life
I received the news of my mum’s death while on duty during the pandemic. I was admitting a patient when my phone rang, and my husband broke the news. She had died peacefully in her sleep. She was a cancer survivor; though frail and elderly she had outlived her prognosis and had lived her life to the fullest. I couldn’t complain, although I would have loved to be there with her. Luckily, I had seen her before the lockdown, but I confess it was really hard… Work became my defence mechanism. Later that day, I told my colleagues “my mum died” – and that was it. There was a national lockdown: I couldn’t travel to Africa to see her body or bid her farewell. I couldn’t be there at her funeral. I could not even visit my siblings living in the same country as me.
On the home front, we made multiple adjustments. Our younger son Daniel returned to work from home and the family decided that preparing meals was their own way of supporting me. That allowed me to fully embrace the routine of digging up the earth, planting seeds, feeding the birds, quiet meditation, and simply enjoying being outdoors. This aspect was very therapeutic indeed.
In a nutshell, the pandemic has been a period of discovery and recovery for me. I have discovered inherent skills and graces I never knew were there. More than ever before, I look to my faith for inner strength, because people look to me for their strength. After all, I cannot give what I do not have. I seldom speak about my work and do not mention that we routinely admit Covid patients on our wards. This is my own way of coping with the pandemic. I am grateful for the privilege to jointly serve humanity. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones, lost jobs or their means of livelihood, and to all frontline workers who are able to put aside personal challenges and to keep going and do the very best they can for patients and families.
Links and resources
- Coronavirus and the palliative care response: EAPC web page with links to publications and resources
- ‘Roles and responses of palliative care during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond’ – video presentation by Prof Irene Higginson at the 11th EAPC World Research Congress Online 2020. View the video here.
Read more posts on the EAPC blog about Covid-19 and the Palliative Care Response.We’re looking forward to more contributions in the coming weeks from Brazil, Portugal and the UK. Do contact if you’d like to contribute too. Check our Contributor’s Guidelines here.
EXPLORE NEW DIMENSIONS 17th EAPC World Congress Online #EAPC2021 – interactive live sessions 6 to 8 October 2021.