By Ciaran Lockhart
“Some patients are fearful. Some have asked for the TV not to be switched on-the news can be too upsetting for them.” Catherine Lockhart, a ward manager at the Waterside hospital, describes some of the fears, her patients are feeling because of the coronavirus pandemic. In normal circumstances, in any other year, Catherine’s ward specialises in the rehabilitation of elderly patients. But in 2020, efforts have been re-doubled to also prevent these vulnerable patients from contracting Covid-19. Fear of coronavirus is made worse by the fact that, under current restrictions, loved ones and family members can no longer visit their sick relatives in hospital. In an ironic twist of fate, not visiting has become a more thoughtful act. An attempt to protect the weak, rather than risk passing on any infection.
According to Catherine, this is what the patients miss most. “It’s that face to face contact with their families. We try our best to keep their spirits up, checking in with them as much as possible to make sure they are ok. We also have an iPhone that has been donated to the ward. We can set it up so patients can facetime with their relatives. It’s important that they still have that contact with their families.”
As of May 4, there have been 28,734 deaths from coronavirus in the UK. The general sense of anxiety that has accompanied the virus, and spread just as insidiously, is also evident among Catherine’s nursing staff. This fear is shared by the patients whom they are determined to protect, as well as their relatives.
Siobhan O’Hara said that one of the hardest things about her father being a patient in the ward, is the fact that they are no longer permitted to visit him.
She said:“It’s been really hard not being able to see him. Daddy was admitted to hospital roughly at the beginning of the outbreak. We visited him at first, but then when we were told we could not visit anymore, it was tough on him. He was slightly confused: why am I here? he asked, telling us that he wanted to come home.”
Siobhan said that one of the carers looking after him, set up a facetime call. Her mother was delighted just to be able to see him.
For Catherine, it is common for patients to easily ‘become confused or feel more isolated’ due to not having the option of a visit from relatives. Her staff are working to find different ways to keep patients in touch with their families and generally keep spirits up, knowing the effect it can have on recovery. Whether it is a facetime call, or a member of staff playing bingo with the patients.
Danielle Devine, who works as a ward clerk on a covid ward in Altnagelvin hospital said that keeping in contact with patients’ relatives has become a priority for her, as patients are ‘worried and scared.’
“It’s my responsibility to contact all next of kin with daily morning updates,” she said.
“They are nursed in individual rooms. Visitors are not allowed, and they are not sure they will see their families again. When nurses or doctors review them, they are wearing full PPE, including gowns, masks, and visors. This can be intimidating as they can not see the facial expressions of the staff.” She said.
Since the pandemic began, there has been an alarming number of deaths among older people, in care homes especially. 269 elderly care home patients have lost they lives as of May 8. Making them the most at- risk group. Aware of this risk, Siobhan, she is relieved to hear that, after a six-week spell in hospital, her father is due for discharge in a few days. “We will get him home and spoil him for a bit, then things can get back to normal,” she jokes.