My inbox starts alerting me to an influx of emails. Anxiously I click on each one searching for the word negative. After ticking them off against my resident and staff list, I can finally breathe, all results in, all negative, we are finally out of outbreak.
Unless you’ve experienced an outbreak in a care home you really can’t imagine the rollercoaster of emotions - pain, trauma, loss but also a sense of pride and camaraderie between the team.
I update the capacity tracker; the tracker I’ve come to hate as the pandemic unfolds and the list of questions increases. Our home is now open. The now vacant beds reflect the loss of life, grieving families and a missing part of our care home family.
You want to rejoice the end of an outbreak, you feel like your team deserves a medal or at least a shared pizza and cake but no, infection prevention still means no sharing of food or encouraging gathering around food without a mask.
There’s still so much work to do. Those who have survived Covid have increased needs. Many have spent considerable time in their bedrooms, they need to move, stretch and socialise. We have to find ways to boast mental and physical health.
Our home has empty beds. Our maintenance person has never had so many empty rooms to prepare at once. Each room has been deep cleaned, refreshed and awaits our next admission. Outside of this pandemic we invite individuals to look around the home, choose their wall paint colour, their front door colour, join us for afternoon tea. Now we have to send pictures, welcome someone into a home neither they nor their relative have ever entered before. When they arrive rather than introduce them to everyone, we need to ask them to live in their room for a fortnight.
The home smells of cleaning products, paint, mixed with the baking from the kitchen. I sit at my desk, I should’ve been at home ages ago. I’ve lost count of the extra hours I’ve worked days and nights they all merge. I stare at my screen, then outside and then back to my never-ending to do list.
I cannot help but reflect how did this virus enter into the home? Did we miss disinfecting some items coming in? Did someone not part of the testing regime bring it in? Did another professional unknowingly bring it in? Was it the contractor that did some emergency work? Was it our resident who’d been in hospital for an appointment? We know we will actually never know but you can’t help but wonder if it was a failure on your part. It doesn’t help that you heard someone else say ‘oh the care home my friend’s mum in hasn’t had it - they’ve been so careful’. Do they not realise how hurtful that comment is - we’ve been careful, we’ve studied countless guidance, followed people on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, trying to learn best practices that we could use within our own home….but it still got in.
We’ve been asked if we want to take part in a debrief on what was good, what lessons could be learnt. The good was all the amazing staff that continue to care, picking up extra shifts, dropping off supplies to their colleagues isolating. The good was the families sending emails recognising, thanking and praising the staff efforts. The good was finding a drink or food that a resident finally started to have, having complained that chef’s previous dish tasted like dishwater! Clearly it didn’t but Covid certainly destroys people’s taste buds.
The lessons - so many but include; pause and take care of yourself, know you will get through the outbreak even if at times it feels impossible. You will not please everyone, there are not have enough hours to update paperwork to the standards regulators expect, you’ll never have a rota that stays unchanged for more than an hour, some families will not be satisfied with your efforts. You’ll come to find all your imperfections - it might be that your staff contact numbers aren’t actually as up to date as you thought; that the manager, team leader and administrator all have to isolate, and you realise how much information you haven’t shared. It might be that the individual & family that have never been comfortable talking about end-of-life wishes, is the person who passes away in the middle of the night - and you still don’t know what their wishes are next.
One lesson is that an outbreak acts as a reminder on how amazing all staff working in care homes are.
The other lesson is that post outbreak, your home can feel like its soul has been ripped out but laughter returns, in time we will heal emotionally, physically and financially.
The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.”– Elizabeth Kübler-Ross