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This is…Alison: Living and dying before and during the Covid-19 Crisis

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Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic children’s hospices have been going above and beyond providing lifeline support to some of the UK’s most vulnerable and isolated children in the toughest of circumstances. And they are finding new ways to connect and support children and families while taking pressure off the NHS. Demelza Hospice Care for Children have been doing all the can to support their NHS colleagues. This Children’s Hospice Week we are celebrating all the amazing things children’s hospices have done during the crisis.

Alison has been working at Demelza Hospice Care for Children in Sittingbourne for 11 years as a Senior Registered Nurse. Her varied career includes a period in aero-medical evacuation for the RAF, as well as working in the paediatric cardiac and transplant service at Harefield Hospital. Highly skilled in paediatric intensive care and palliative care nursing, Alison has been seconded to the Intensive Care Unit at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent. She started on 4 May and will remain in post until 6 August to support the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Alison’s Blog: Living and dying before and during the Covid-19 Crisis

It has been another interesting week, allowing me to pause, reflect and compare working at the NHS and Demelza Children’s Hospice.

Life is not always what we imagine, and our day-to-day life affects who we are and what we do. We are the sum of our experiences.

Moments have stayed with me; bearing witness to a life lost and I realise what we as human beings and as palliative care nurses aspire to and bare witness of. It is not only about the dying, but being witness to a life and a death, being present. Just being there for someone’s final moments…supporting the parents and family.

Alison Watson

I saw my first death this week on ITU: shrouded in technology, full ventilation, and multi-organ support.  Even to the last moments and although we knew the outcome, there was life. A breathing person, someone’s parent, someone’s partner, someone with a past and present.

And I reflected on what we did at Demelza Hospice before Covid-19. Supporting families, communicating, caring, nursing the child and supporting each other.  Liaising with the palliative care team to ensure that everything is right.  You have most probably heard my mantra before: ‘we have one chance to get it right’. However we care for the dying child, the parents will carry those memories with them for the rest of their lives. And in the Covid 19 world, it is exactly the same.

Families and next of kin are fully aware of how critically ill their loved ones are through incredible communication with consultants and medical staff.  Telephone conversations and Facetime talking to their sedated loved ones. But the physical contact is brief, little time to say goodbye.  No time for the what ‘ifs’ and no time to plan for the future or for funerals.  No time to sit and have a cup of tea, treasuring those last hours. And PPE creates a barrier.  We learn to speak with our eyes, to hold someone’s gaze and to speak slowly and clearly.


Nurse in full PPE

The compassion, dedication and understanding within the nursing and medical team in ITU were no different to Demelza.  Their care and support are incredible in these times.  Time for a next- of-kin to visit and re-visit until they were ready, if ever you are ready to say goodbye. Time for the family members to swap over so a second person can say their goodbyes. Peaceful, calm, and sad for a life lived and life which will be lost.

However, I reflect on the bereavement support we give at Demelza. Time for families to plan, to be there and time spent with their child in the Hop Garden (Bereavement Suite); allowing then to make more memories and to just be.

But not in this hospital world.  Patients often need to be transferred as soon as possible and so there is little time for staff to adjust to the loss of their patient.  The next of kin come to the hospital to see a critically ill family member to bear witness to their life and death.  And then they leave, bereaved.  No time to adjust as their loved one is taken to the mortuary. The compassion and care of the team is clear, the family and bereavement support different to what I’m used to.


So, as I close this sombre blog, hold fast to how you nurse and care in life and in death, always with care and compassion.

Alison Watson

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  1. Thankyou from the bottom of my heart for all you do looking after the children at Demelza hospice. My great niece is under your care Layla always tells me and my sister how fantastic you all are.

    27 June, 2020
    Denise griffin
  2. Thanks for your lovely feedback about Demelza and their amazing support.

    27 June, 2020
    Katrina Kelly