Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Hello to all reading,
I hope you are all keeping safe and well.
I am a performer who graduated from Associated Studios with a diploma in Musical Theatre in July 2019 (loved it there!) and I played Sister Mary Patrick & U/S for Michelle in our production of Sister Act. Since graduating I joined an agency New Wonder Management, run by the lovely Lola and John Byrne who have become my partners in crime in the performing world.
Even with that of course have still had to take on a ‘muggle’ job and during lockdown, I have become a key worker by default due to my job role in a Care home. It’s been tough to say the least and I’m here to share my story with you; from what my job role is, to what my role became during lockdown, a few insights into the world of a frontline worker, ultimately the changes I had to make and what I’ve learnt from these intense circumstances and also I’ll share what we are doing now in my Care home as we resurface to a new normality. Death and disease are not comfortable topics, but it’s necessary to talk about and see that there is wisdom to be gained in this.
I have tried to be as informative, sensitive and real as I can be. It’s been an emotional post to write and taken me some time. My heart ached reliving some moments but if you read till the end, you will see some nuggets of positivity and hopefully wisdom from what I’ve learnt from my experience as a Key worker.
My role as Life Enrichment
I have been working in a care home as a Life Enrichment coordinator since Christmas and had already learnt so much from my time there before COVID19 was known to the world. It’s humbled me and created even more space for empathy, patience and deeper levels of communication with those with varied cognitive abilities. As head of Life Enrichment, my role entails supporting my residents mind, body, soul well-being. We do this through many creative activities for all cognitive and physical abilities. From cooking classes, sensory meditation mornings, book clubs (our personal favourite is ‘Good night stories for rebel girls’ – which I highly recommend for educating yourself on impressive women across all ages), exercise games, cream tea afternoons and so much more.
Lockdown; transition to Key worker
I was due to be touring India as part of my first professional dance contract during the months of March – May and like so many, our plans have drastically changed but I could have never imagined this being my next reality.
Our home turned into a hospital as we were told the devastating news that we had the virus spreading amongst our residents. Nothing prepares you for this type of scenario. It was gut wrenching coming out of that meeting – all of us knowing now, a lot is about to change, and we really didn’t know what to expect. The media hadn’t helped us to feel too great about what’s to come either. I didn’t intend to have a job in the medical industry, where maybe I would have been mentally prepared for what I may be in for. But I wasn’t prepared, this for us was totally different, not Alzheimer’s or Dementia, this was a disease we had to wear PPE for. We needed to protect our residents, their families and our own families from this.
How my role changed
My main role during lockdown turned into connecting our residents with their loved ones through the means of FaceTime and Skype, as we were no longer allowed to do our regular mind, body & soul activities, everyone had to stay in their rooms for safety. Many people have lost loved ones due to this virus and couldn’t even say goodbye, including myself. Lots of places don’t offer this type of service either. So, this means of communication became so crucial in everyone’s mental well-being but even then it was confusing and upsetting for our residents too.
I’d put my PPE on, take a few deep breaths and walk into my residents room ready to FaceTime their loved ones. Most of my residents are hard of hearing or are unable to communicate due to cognitive impairment, so it would mostly be myself filling in the conversation gaps to make everyone feel comfortable and heard. I’ve heard and been a part of conversations I never thought I would. Reactions varied, some cried and broke down and I really wished I had more ways to comfort them than just through a screen.
Dealing with the death and healing
The hardest call I had, became emotionally challenging before the call had even begun. A resident in our care (whom I’d been doing FaceTime calls with for the previous 2 weeks) overnight had been confirmed with Corona virus. I didn’t know if the family were aware of this yet as it was still early in the morning - they may not have picked up the phone or seen the email confirming the case. My heart sank and I burst into tears, how on earth was I going to tell them this horrible news if they asked me for an update? Luckily for me, a night nurse had informed them. I was relieved but had still felt a fraction of what doctors and nurses feel regularly when they have to pass on difficult information. They are saddened by it each time; our health workers are amazing and a newfound depth of respect welled up in me from that experience. This resident passed away peacefully in the night about a week later, the family were all able to say goodbye and had a call every day up until that night.
Dealing with unexpected deaths and suffering is extremely hard and it was utterly heart- breaking to hear people so sad over the video call, not always knowing what to say to make it better. I learnt you just need to hold space for people to feel what they need to feel and pour so much kindness into them. There were positives though, some were as upbeat as they could be and just wanted to see their loved ones faces, whether or not they could talk back just seeing them was enough.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt from that part of the job is that as people are saying goodbye, they simply want to express all their love, create peace and see their loved one have permission to pass on, knowing they have so much love around them and they’re all going to be okay. You can literally feel the atmosphere change as people speak words of love to their relative, it was truly an honour to share a healing space with many people too during this time, it wasn’t always sadness. I think that’s an important lesson and reminder for us all, that at the end of it all – we just want love. That’s really all that matters. I love you, you love me. Let there be peace.
How I made a change
Nothing else mattered to me during the intensive phase in our care home, I couldn’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. It was too painful. I could only think about today, what I could do to get through it and be the best I could possibly be...in ALL ways. I changed my diet the day I found out we had the virus – I cut out sugar, red meat and dairy and stuck myself into a pescatarian/vegan diet just to make sure I was taking care of myself in the best possible way so I didn’t get sick and have to take time off work. I wanted to be there to support my home all the way.
I couldn’t sugar coat to friends or family that things were ‘fine’ because they were not. Being around people dying in these circumstances is not fine and false positivity is more hurtful and disrespectful to the pain people are facing. I couldn’t tap out of that ‘pain’ even if I wanted to because I was around it day in day out and that’s had a permanent effect on me. I had to allow myself to feel what I really felt to release it from my sphere, it’s important to be honest and I understood I needed to ‘avoid’ being avoidant and deal with this so it didn’t overwhelm me in the long run.
Perhaps that’s something to bare in mind when you clap for health and care workers on a Thursday evening, they don’t get to tap out of this and it does still have long lasting effects even if they are dealing with it as best they can in the moment.
Lessons that have come out of this
A gift from these strange set of circumstances is that now, I really understand how to live fully in the moment, being present with each day. Doing the most you can and being happy about that at the end of the day. As performers I believe we tend to worry a lot about the future, always looking ahead at our next goal and being unsettled with our daily lives. But our daily lives and the hours within it still have so much to offer us, when you wake up in the morning don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. Think about what you can do TODAY. There’s a lot of happiness and love in that and it’s not always the big things, which we’re all guilty of searching for, but the little things each day that add up. I’ve learnt to appreciate my life through this so much more, don’t take your youthful body and mind for granted, say yes to opportunities and create happiness in those moments. I guess you really don’t see just how amazing your body and mind is until you see those who can no longer use it to its fullest potential, so please let no moment go wasted. Life is so precious, and we need to all start following what we love, take chances to expand our options and live the life we want.
Look into people’s eyes, they really are the window to the soul and will tell you everything you need to know about a person’s emotional state. It’s the best way I’ve learnt to read and communicate with my residents. Connect with people, don’t be afraid of being too much, send love and positivity to others. We all crave connection and understanding so don’t hold back, let your heart lead you. Love is something that ‘does’ it doesn’t just sit around thinking about love, love is action and has endless creativity expressing itself.
Be open to others, obviously with a healthy dose of discernment. In my experience witnessing different cognitive abilities in my care home, those who are more open to receiving love have the most positive experiences in care. Those who aren’t as open to receiving the love us carers want to provide them, stay in their own world and have a faster decline in health. The ideologies you feed your brain throughout your life influence your physical health too. This isn’t just relevant to care; this is relevant to everyone in their lives.
This experience has been so impactful on my life, I don’t see how I could ever revert back to how I was before and I don’t want to. It’s opened my eyes and changed me forever. I’m grateful for my life and for the gifts it holds for me each day, the love and support from my family and friends, which during this time helped me to be the best person I could be for my residents and their families. It’s all a chain reaction (cue music) of love. All in all, we are each connected to each other’s lives in some way, a small act of love will have that chain reaction that will end up perhaps saving someone’s life in hospital. I mean that, you really never know. Nothing you do is ever too small. It’s received and appreciated somewhere along the line.
We are starting to go back to normal activities in the home and my usual duties of being a Life Enrichment coordinator are resuming now that the outbreak has disappeared for now in our little world. Our reception team now deal with FaceTime and Skype calls. We had a mini Ascot day, bringing horses from a local charity club down to parade for our residents in the car park. We celebrated the Queen’s birthday and cream tea day with lots of afternoon teas and music all around the home. We made a mobile ice cream trolley for the hottest day of the year and took it round to every room in the home. We have set up marquees in the garden for socially distanced visits between family and residents. We are doing lots now and it’s a welcomed relief that we can resume. Thanks to our wonderful management and all workers being extremely disciplined not only at work, but out in the real world to make sure we keep the residents safe. I’ve felt honoured to have this as my purpose during this time and it will be something I continue to acknowledge throughout my life.
As life is starting to normalise, please wear facemasks and be respectful. People have worked very hard to make sure you and your loved ones are safe and alive. I hope you all are ready to be open and receive love and support you deserve. Take care of yourselves and each other and remember to be present each day.
Georgia Mae White x