Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on what frontline care workers have done over the past year
‘The pandemic has really shone a spotlight on what frontline workers do every day’
‘We are, hopefully, almost out the other side of the worst health crisis in our lifetime.’ File photograph: Getty
Since the start of the pandemic, the vital role played by doctors, nurses and the whole team of frontline care workers who have toiled tirelessly to keep the virus at bay, has been at the forefront of our minds.
We have seen and heard stories of how, despite worries of contracting coronavirus, up and down the country, they have turned up for work, day in, day out, while the rest of us have tried to keep as far away from any contagion as possible.
But while these everyday heroes deserve every bit of the praise they have received (and more), I want to acknowledge the nature of these people, who from the start of their careers, seem to be imbued with an incredible sense of goodwill and a genuinely caring attitude.
I know, some will say that this is just a part of their job but, in my opinion, being kind is not something you learn on work experience or at the annual industry conference – it is a trait you are either born with or develop early in life and, I believe it is something we should all try to emulate.
Fortunately, I have never been seriously ill, but I have had three children in hospital, been for countless tests and examinations over the years and been at the bedside of family and loved ones who have either been ill, undergoing treatment, or in the case of my father, dying in hospital – so I think it is safe to say that I have had some experience of healthcare staff and it has been overwhelmingly positive.
I was prompted to write this piece after undergoing a procedure on my shoulder recently at the Bon Secours Hospital in Galway. Every member of staff I encountered was exceptional in their professionalism, but so also was the manner in which they dealt with me and everyone else around me – a kind, caring and patient attitude permeated the day ward, theatre and recovery room and despite being constantly busy, the staff dealt with every request with good grace, doing their utmost to make what could have been an altogether unpleasant experience, into something much more positive.
Our hour of need
I was reminded that although, over the past year, we have all become much more aware of the role played by doctors, nurses and healthcare staff, they have always been there working away in the background and are only recognised in our hour of need.
Indeed, whether I have been treated in the public or private system, the care administered by the vast majority of staff was instinctive rather than learned.
When my father was in his final days at the Galway Clinic, I was struck by the inherent goodness of the staff on the oncology ward. They couldn’t have done enough for us and even in his last few hours when he wasn’t conscious of the world around him, they brought an extra blanket to keep him warm as the night got chillier, apologised for the “little pinch” of the needle whenever they administered morphine, rubbed cream into his hands and feet and one nurse even came in to give him a kiss on the forehead before she went home after her long shift.
These things may seem small and insignificant to some, but to us, the gestures of genuine kindness were immense and made what was a truly heartbreaking experience into something a little easier to bear.
At the other side of the coin, when each of my children were born (two in London and the last one at St Munchin’s maternity in Limerick), the care and thoughtfulness was an added bonus to the expert medical care I received from the midwives – particularly the wonderful woman in Limerick who put my son’s tiny babygrow on the radiator so it would be “warm and cosy when he arrived” and then stayed an extra half hour, despite her superior telling her that her shift was over, so she could welcome him into the world.
So, whether at the beginning or end of life or any of those times in between, almost every experience I have had of frontline staff in both public and private hospitals across the country, has been overwhelmingly positive.
And I’m not alone in feeling or wanting to highlight this.
Extremely busy staff
Seán Coughlan from Dublin has been “in and out of hospital for years” and while the staff were often extremely busy, he always felt they genuinely cared for his wellbeing. “I have had many issues over the course of my lifetime, from sports-related accidents to an experience with cancer and the death of both of my parents, and I have nothing but praise for the staff in all of those instances,” he says.
“I have been in A&E many times, either with a problem of my own or with a friend or family member, and I honestly don’t know how the doctors and nurses stay calm and professional in the middle of so much chaos.
“I have huge respect for anyone working at the front line, whether it is in a hospital, a nursing home for the elderly (where my mother spent her last few years) or any medical practice. To be giving of yourself, day in, day out, when people are at their worst and often, as in my case, not a pretty sight to be dealing with, and to still remain caring, is quite an achievement.
“And, with everything else which has gone on over the past year, I think the hospital staff around the country, and even around the world, should be classed as heroes. There has been a lot of talk about other professions saying they are on the front line too and should be at the top of the queue (for vaccination), but apart from the guards who also do a very tough job, I think nothing compares to what medical staff do, not just during the pandemic, but throughout their careers. I think people just forget what an important job they do until there is an emergency.”
Therese Gleeson from Cork agrees and says she has the “utmost respect” for frontline staff, particularly as she knows exactly what the job entails, having worked as a nurse when she was younger.
“I don’t think many people appreciate how stressful it can be to work in a busy hospital,” she says. “I lived in the UK for years before I had my family and moved back home, and I worked as an A&E nurse in London. It was non-stop from the moment we got to work until we finished. Of course, this made the shift fly by, but there was a lot of pressure every single day – and I think that you really have to have a certain personality type to do the job and cope with this.
“Caring about people’s welfare is essential and you must be able to put aside any pre-conceived ideas or prejudices about people as nothing matters other than trying to provide the best care possible, no matter what you think about the patient – and I’ve been on the receiving end of much verbal abuse, but you have to shut your ears to it.
“It is a difficult job, which doesn’t suit everyone – and of course, I did have colleagues who weren’t happy in their work. But I believe that is because they didn’t have genuine empathy for those who were in their care. The pandemic has really shone a spotlight on what frontline workers do every day, and I hope that people continue to remember this once everything is back to normal.”
According to the old adage “eaten bread is soon forgotten” – but we must not let this be the case with our health care workers. We are, hopefully, almost out the other side of the worst health crisis in our lifetime and, while many lives were unfortunately lost or changed forever as a result of the virus, countless others were saved – and we must never forget those who made that happen.