“Above all else, it’s proved that having faith, no matter what that may be, is one of the most powerful things of all”
Chaplaincy and COVID-19, Emma’s story
Emma D’aeth is the Trust Chaplain at Solent NHS Trust, helping to deliver chaplaincy and spiritual care to the people in our diverse communities.
“The Chaplaincy service is here for everyone: staff, patients, carers, those of all faith and none - so as you can imagine, my job took a very difficult turn, when I was no longer able to visit patients during these unbelievably difficult times”, said Emma.
Spiritual care workers have been thrust onto the frontlines in new ways. And they have played a crucial role in making sure that patients isolated by the infection of COVID-19 are not alone.
“As well as a Reverend, I’m also a Registered Nurse. I was asked if I would be open to coming back onto the wards if I was needed, I wanted to do my bit so of course, I agreed. After all, nobody knew how much chaos was about to unleash on our healthcare system, it was all hands on deck and I knew I had skills to offer, both practically and emotionally.
“I re-trained alongside so many others who had chosen to be redeployed or had even come back out of retirement, ready to be utilised in any way they could. We’d learn about Oxygen therapy, take advice from respiratory nurses and study information about the symptoms of COVID-19 and how it was affecting people. There were lots of anxieties in those training sessions, so not only was I readying myself to go back on the wards, but I was also there to offer comfort to the brave people who were training for a potentially life-changing experience – we were all in the same boat sailing through uncertain waters. I prayed.
“To this day, I’ve not had to visit the wards as a nurse, and I’ve been able to keep my usual role as Chaplain throughout the pandemic, something that gave me great comfort but in the same breath was a scary concept. I couldn’t visit certain wards where I know I’m heavily relied upon and I had to adjust to working from home – it was probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face.
“I felt angry, bereft, upset – I didn’t want people to forget about me or forget that I was there for them. How was I going to help them if I couldn’t see them? I’d stand outside the wards, knowing full well I couldn’t go in, but I needed people to see my face. I wanted them to realise I still had a role to play. Eventually, the Trust found a space for me to work out of in one of our wards and I could visit the patients there. I got my purpose back!
“One of my main anxieties throughout this period has been how we deal with end of life care. Visitors were not allowed at the start of the pandemic and it was so important that we made sure that these people knew they were not alone. I worked with the diversity team to make sure that the spiritual needs of patients were met, regardless of their religious convictions. I wanted their relatives to know they are getting to express their faith during their time on the wards and if you don’t have a faith, that you are not on your own - to know that someone is there for you, someone to be with. Eventually, families were allowed in to see patients if they were end of life which gave everyone a great comfort.
“Now as the world begins to return to a shade of ‘normality’ I find myself being with people again, even if that means I’m under several layers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). You go from being a reassuring presence to being one of the many masked people," Emma says. "I learned how to express myself with my eyes and liked to tell people that I was indeed happy to see them. We did work out a way however where I could still keep my dog collar visible, which I think gave people a bit of comfort.
“On my ‘rounds’ I keep my mobile on me at all times which became handy, I used Skype and YouTube a lot, so the patients had some sort of connectivity. A particular gentleman was missing his wife dearly, they’d never been separated in over 70 years and he wanted to listen to their song, Moon River, so we played that and sang it together. That day his wife came to visit too. Tears were aplenty.
“I was also honoured to be asked to carry out a wedding on a ward I used to work in when I was practising as a nurse many years ago - the Cedar ward in Petersfield. A few weeks into the pandemic, I got a phone call from the senior sister. A gentleman who was 77 and terminally ill wanted to get married to his long-time partner and they were determined he would get his wish. I’d never done a wedding on a ward before, but it’s the time to embrace the unknown!
“We got a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury so we would carry out the ceremony. There was a wedding planner and the village donated a suit, wedding dress, several cakes and the ward was decorated in full. When the day came, the nurses pushed his bed into the garden so we could maintain social distancing. All the staff were in attendance along with the gentleman’s daughter and grandchildren. The sun broke through the clouds as his bride walked up to the garden where he laid in his bed, dressed in his suit - his granddaughter held the rings as they said their vows. His smile was as wide as could be.
“Two weeks later he finally passed away.
“The conversations I’ve had and the time I have spent with people throughout the pandemic is and continues to be a huge honour. In a way, COVID-19 has bought so many of us together, fighting for the same cause, even though we may all be physically apart. But above all else, it’s proved that having faith, no matter what that may be, is one of the most powerful things of all."