Stories of loss during Covid
03 December 2020
Bev Fitzsimons reflects on the stories heard by the Point of Care Foundation team during the Covid-19 crisis.
People often ask what we mean when we talk about humanising healthcare, when caring itself is so clearly a fundamentally human thing. In answer I say that it means being seen and treated as a person rather than an illness. This means we have influence over our care and what happens to us, that we are treated kindly and with compassion, and that everything possible is done to help us maintain our dignity. Against this definition it is clear that even with the best of intentions, our NHS doesn’t always achieve this.
To humanise care we must engage both with people who work in and use healthcare. We need to listen to their stories, then respond at every level: from how services work right down to individual interactions. Our work at the Point of Care Foundation uses the stories that both staff and patients tell to forge human connections between people in healthcare: simply people as people. We know that listening to one another’s experiences helps people to understand each other and ensure they feel seen, heard, believed, and less alone in their experiences. We also know that the practice of storytelling has been around since the dawn of time. So why are we talking about this now?
As services begin to start up again after the first wave of Covid-19, we have been reflecting on what this means in the context of our mission to humanise healthcare. It can be difficult to maintain humanity in healthcare even in normal times, with staff constantly exposed to pressure and distress. How much more intense then, during the pandemic when the pressure is much greater?
We have heard many moving stories over the past eight months. The thread which ties them all together is that in one way or another, they are all stories of loss. The stories from patients and families and their losses that we see on the news every day are almost unbearable. The family who lost three members to Covid in a single week. The daughters with hands pressed against the glass unable to hold their dying parent.
There is also the quiet desperation of people whose care has been suspended or delayed because of the pressure that Covid has placed on the NHS. There is loss of hope and connection at the most important of times – at the very beginning and end of life. We only truly understand this loss by listening to people’s stories.
Through our work with staff, we have heard stories of loss too. Of course, the terrible loss of patients, colleagues, friends, and family to Covid is present at the most fundamental level. But on top of this, we have heard moving accounts of staff bearing witness to patients who were unable to be with their loved ones as they died. We have heard about the loss of support, care, and compassion of colleagues as teams are shaken up at a time when clinical demands overwhelm. The loss of a feeling of competence for people moved to work in unfamiliar areas to help with the Covid response, and the loss of purpose as well as feelings of guilt among those required to be at home. Most sharply felt has been the loss of the ability to provide the comfort and compassion that patients need.
It is in the telling of these stories of loss that we see hope take root and healthcare become more ‘human’. This hope stems from the commonality between patients and staff in their experience as human beings, and the connection this forges between them: one person to another. The power of sharing stories of loss lies in the emotional support that sharing brings, and the building of stronger bonds between people. This sharing is a profound act of kindness and generosity, in which we have been privileged to see humanity at its best.
We will be sharing some of the stories we have heard, to bring to light some of the experiences of people working during the pandemic. The following clip is voiced by an actor and has some details changed.