We Didn’t Ask To Be Heroes -Care Home Staff

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We didn’t ask to be heroes!

This is a rant from someone who was on the front line during 2020 – not the NHS front line but the disposable, underrated Care Home front line.

There were many stories of “cruelty” in Care Homes during the pandemic. Cruelty?? Things were overlooked and standards dropped at times during the panic and fear. But I seriously doubt that there was deliberate cruelty.

I am naive maybe…

But if there was any “cruelty”, it was how front line Care Home staff were treated.

Everyone suffered during the coronavirus outbreak. One way or another, everyone has something to look back on and say “I hated that”.

A great deal of news air-time was reporting the plight of elderly people imprisoned in care home bedrooms. And the deep distress of their relatives who were refused entry.

Emotive words.

People demanded that the government forced care homes to throw open their doors and allow relatives to visit their depressed and lonely parents.

I was part of that. I was one of the wicked, cruel, inhuman care home staff who locked elderly in their rooms and refused to show them the light of day.

Except it wasn’t really like that!

Initially, the home I worked in were allowing the residents to come down into the communal areas since they were in effect each other’s family.

We carried on as normal. After all, families were allowed to mix within their own home . Our home from home was a family from family!

It was the GP surgery who insisted that we keep people separated. We argued and fought but we were told we had no choice…we were forced to comply.

Later on in the lockdown, we were told we may allow a few “bubbles” of people to meet up so long as they were six feet apart. This is people who are deaf or visually impaired. Six feet! But it was better than nothing so we went for it.

As soon as someone had a raised temperature, even for just one reading, we had to lock them all down again.

Yes, some people did become quite low. Believe me, many of them were staff!

We had phone calls from hospitals telling us that the government was forcing us to accept patients. Not from local hospitals but places in distant counties who were desperate to move elderly out into care. I understand that – but they refused to test patients prior to discharge.

We steadfastly refused to accept anyone who was not tested but other homes were made to comply.

No wonder so many elderly succumbed to this life-eating virus.

That hospitals were at breaking point was not our fault. But instead of providing the means to test each discharged patient, Care Homes were pressurised into accepting anyone who was “medically fit for discharge”. No pre-admittance assessments. No considering if we could meet their needs and if our Home was suitable for this person. They were just thrown at us.

And the Homes were criticised for not having intricate plans in place to cope.

Not that we were supported by the wider health service. Our providers pulled rabbits out of hats I will say…they did as much as anyone could have. But the care providers were themselves let down too.

And so it spread.

The insinuation though was that staff were bringing it in.

Care staff are two a penny…

See, care home staff are regarded as dispensable. They can be replaced. And they are so poorly regarded by everyone in the medical profession that it was assumed that they couldn’t understand instructions about how to stay virus free.

I will tell anyone who will listen that care home staff are some of the most dedicated and giving people ever. Carers, housekeeping, auxiliary staff. The crap they had to put up with was bloody wrong!

One amazing story – a care home in the next town had a police car drive up one Thursday evening at 7:55pm. Then another, and another. At 8pm, the police officers got out and applauded the care home staff. THAT still brings a tear to my eye.

There were thank you gifts from Asda, Superdrug, Dominoes, Co-op, our local town council plus some wonderful and beautiful individuals. Coloured pictures from children cheered up the corridors. These acts of kindness were what kept many people going during this!

Local surgeries phoned to see if we were coping. There were calls from council employees who had been quickly trained to give advice.

But it felt hollow at times. We were still considered to be at fault for each death, each outbreak.

Care home staff don’t do it for the thanks…but it really helps. Otherwise, it is constant criticism.

Then the relatives became anxious

Then there were the relatives. Yes, this was a horrible time for them. Initially they thanked us for being there when they could not.

Then time passed and they grew anxious…guilty maybe. Some began complaining. They criticised us for not keeping in touch. It would have been good if they had called us, but no, it was our job to call each family with updates. This whilst trying to get to grips with constant changes of procedure from government departments, lack of protective equipment, frightened staff, lack of deliveries – you name it.

Care Homes were also accused of denying relatives entry! Guilty as charged there. I asked one distressed daughter how she would feel if I also let in everyone else’s relatives, and one of those brought the virus in. Her response was that I should only let HER in.

We did let some in!

Fact is, when someone was at end of life, we DID allow family in. They were gowned, masked and tested to within an inch of their own lives.

“How do you girls put up with this?” they asked.

I don’t know…really I don’t.

We got clapped after the NHS had taken their share of the Thursday appreciation. I’m sure that that was supposed to help.

“Heroes”? We didn’t ask to be heroes!

The television news channels never gave enough air time to care home staff…not those who wanted to put our case anyway.

Homes for younger people were criticised for not allowing residents out for the weekend. Think it through…how can you allow someone back into a communal home from a domestic setting when you’re not sure who they have socialised with?

Everyone just saw their own situation.

Did anyone consider how the home staff felt? They were coming into work when others were safe at home. These people were therefore risking their health and that of their own loved ones.

They had to be extra vigilant. They had to give up any kind of social life, even family life.

And for doing that, they were pilloried and accused of cruelty.

We didn’t ask to be heroes!

They didn’t ask to be heroes. But even as heroes, they could not get it right.

Instead of getting help, they got the blame.

Me…there were so many final straws. It was a rotten time to leave – just when homes were crying out for staff. I was exhausted – enough was enough. Mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. I’d been there for 25 years in various roles – going the extra mile time and time again had taken its toll.

I was initially angered by what was being broadcast about Care Homes. But eventually it was a straw too many. Care home management is difficult during the bright balmy days of summer – mainly due to complaints that we don’t keep the rooms cool enough, we don’t give people enough fluids…you name it. But during a pandemic you do your best! Then we were bombarded with “live rounds” in the guise of untested new residents. And the television called US cruel and inhuman! I defy anyone to try it and come away unharmed.

I was the Dementia Care Coach. In that role I was supposed to be able to talk the staff through any situation they met. This was beyond me. It was beyond anyone. But that laid too heavily on my head.

Every resident in the home I worked at is treated with respect, kindness and compassion every day. They are friends to the staff. The staff – all the staff – give so much…but most importantly they give a damn.

And they are THE most overlooked and undervalued workers in this country.

We didn’t ask to be heroes:

We didn’t ask to be heroes
We didn’t take the King’s shilling…
Not conscripted nor willing
To live a life that’s hardly living.
Frightened of catching…more so of giving
A death sentence to those we care for…
The ones we’ve sworn to be there for.
When no-one else is.
We didn’t ask to be heroes
We’re exhausted. We’re drained.
Too tired to remember who called us untrained!
Invisible! Undervalued! Unworthy of praise!
As much as that stung, we’d return to those days!
Days when we felt safe on our way home
Not carrying a virus that could kill our own.
Those joyous days when we were ignored, neglected,
Not regarded as heroes – well, that’s dirty…infected!
I didn’t ask to be a hero, yet here I am!
Is it my day to die? The scrubbed up sacrificial lamb.
Given a badge to jump the queues –
Or the chance to figure on the ten o clock news.
Has the weekly gratitude diminished
Now that the 8pm clapping has finished?
Ah! Get back to the party, laugh with your mate
I’ll swallow a swab and discover my fate
And tell the old soldier boy - “sorry, too late”.
We didn’t ask to be heroes
But we’re still standing with smiles on our faces
Coz the people we care for have been places
Far worse than this…they’ve borne their crosses
Lived through real pain - wars and losses.
And they didn’t ask to be heroes back then
But they stood up to be counted again and again. 
They’ve fought to the death, they’ve seen bloody slaughter
But are killed by a bug which dies in soap and water.
There’s nothing we can do but gown up and be there…
And beg you don’t be selfish - coz this isn’t fair!
We didn’t ask to be heroes…
Yet heroes we are ! 

This has been a rant…little editing or sophistication. But I needed a rant! This is what I do for now…I write. See what else I write:

Poetry …Whole Life Poetry

or for something more specialised here is Dementia Poetry

Also Motorhome Hobos

Author: TRUDIvivian

I am just me. Ordinary. Living within a self-constructed cage and running with the rats. Except I can see that there is more to life than that ... and I am on my way towards the stars one step at a time.

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