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  • Writer's pictureLilian Chiwera

A very challenging year, yet one filled with more love and kindness

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’d know by now that I am passionate about love and kindness in the workplace and in our communities (see my previous blog here). 2020 has been a challenging year for all of us. And yet, all I remember most is the love and kindness people showed each other despite tragedies, sicknesses, and separation from loved ones etc.

What started as an isolated incident in China, would soon engulf the whole world without much notice. For Infection Prevention & Control (IPC) specialists, it was all about evidence based practice up to this point and I remember vowing never to wear a mask in public because ‘the evidence was not sufficient’. But, we had to learn and adjust practices as we got to know more about the virus and its characteristics. Everyone was anxious, various restrictions were imposed by governments throughout the world to help combat the virus. Yet in all that, a new kindness pandemic was also emerging. Many people volunteered to do acts of kindness for those in great need of food or who needed company during periods of isolation or emergencies. I remember working in critical care and witnessing the generosity of our communities, our leadership and many businesses which had to close temporarily at short notice. Sadly some businesses never recovered from the economic pressures that were brought about by the pandemic. It’s been a very difficult year for everyone and yet nothing but love, kindness and compassion for one another could have kept us all going like we did.

It hasn’t been all about surgical site infection prevention in 2020

For those who know me well, they’ll appreciate that I love surgical site infection (SSI) prevention and patient safety. I was blessed to attend my last face to face SSI conference in Frankfurt, Germany at the beginning of February 2020. At this conference, I met top experts in SSI prevention from Spain, Netherlands, Italy and Turkey and we agreed we would arrange visits to facilitate further learning. We were also busy planning for our first ever SSI conference at Guy’s & St Thomas’ to celebrate all the hard work we had done with colleagues over a ten year period. Then suddenly all the plans had to be halted as COVID-19 engulfed the world’s news headlines.

Preparation for a pandemic without knowing it was coming

Interestingly, I had taken 3 weeks annual leave at the end of 2019 and decided to work in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Essex to update my critical care skills. I remember one patient I looked after post extubation, telling her family when they came to visit that she wanted to take me home with her so I could become her private nurse. I’m sure most nurses will recall those moments when patients are absolutely delighted with your care and the joy and pride you feel inside. Yes, I always endeavour to deliver the best care possible, with love, compassion and kindness. What I didn’t know at the time was the fact that those 3 weeks working in ICU were actually my preparation for redeployment in my own trust at the peak of the first wave of this current COVID-19 pandemic.

It wasn’t what I expected

So, as soon I heard that staffing was an issue in ICU, I volunteered to go to critical care leaving my cherished SSI prevention job at a time when most elective surgery was being cancelled anyway. What I witnessed during this time would leave me emotionally drained for months and at one point I felt like I had clinical signs of depression for the first time in my life. In my whole career, I had always come on duty and did a good job and by the time I finished my shifts, I felt my patients were better than when I found them. Not on this occasion, patients were extremely sick, and there were times when doctors were rushing between beds or units doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation for ‘multiple’ patients. The thought of families not being able to be with loved ones during their final hours of life broke my heart. That feeling of helplessness engulfed me on numerous occasions and yet the courage, strength and determination of experienced critical care nurses inspired me to keep going until the end of the first peak. Yes I was emotionally traumatised by this experience but received all the support I needed. It was very critical during this time to speak up whenever one felt overwhelmed in order to get the right support systems put in place. My advice to anyone on the front-line or feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic right now is speak up and #BeKindToSelf!

A Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership course to the rescue

My personal life has had its challenges, like anyone else who has to go through their life journey, but I have always found ways to keep going, and my strong faith has helped me to soldier through many times. During this pandemic, I needed to make radical changes to my lifestyle and work/life balance. I am grateful for the Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership course that I commenced at the beginning of the year where there was a lot of emphasis on self-awareness, work/life balance and the importance of accurately balancing the 4 leadership energies (spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical). This was a very welcome course which helped me to cope with some of the challenges 2020 brought. I had to raise my spiritual game to enable me to keep going.

That small & yet powerful voice

Writing blogs was a way of relaxing and reflection for me and I remember one blog that would change my life forever. As a Christian, I have always hesitated to talk much about my religion so as not to offend my professional colleagues. But at this point, I couldn’t cope without reaching out to my spiritual strength. So I wrote a blog and was ready to post it on Monday morning. For the first time, I had quoted scriptures but then wondered what my professional colleagues would think? In my mind I thought, ‘people want to hear about infection prevention & control (IPC) or surgical site infection (SSI) prevention and not my religion.’ So the first section of this blog was all professional (IPC & SSI) and the final section had bible scriptures. I said to myself, well those who want to read about SSI and IPC will read the first part, but Christians can go to the very end. But before I could hit upload, I thought I heard a voice whispering to me ‘don’t send your blog today but do so after one week’. This ‘voice’ was quite powerful so I couldn’t ignore it.

Delving into my religion

During the coming days, I would ponder why I couldn’t sent my blog? I recalled a scripture in the bible “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels” Mark 8 vs. 13 (New KJV). Well, over the coming days I would rewrite my blog, which reflected the fact that as a Christian, I have no choice but to love in all circumstances. There was no part A for unbelievers and part B for believers; certainly there should never be different levels of love for different groups of people. It was one whole blog, one love, and I couldn’t believe the fact that the only time I was happy to post my blog was exactly one week after I heard ‘that voice’. Did God speak to me? In fact, I read my blog again and just realised how powerful it was and it has certainly allowed me to be more open about my Christianity which is helping me to recover from my traumatic emotionally draining experiences earlier this year. In another one of my blogs, I prayed for our leadership and frontline colleagues and will never forget the evening I prayed for our Prime Minster and all Members of Parliament (MPs) with uncontrollable tears running down my cheeks as I walked along Westminster Bridge after work. I would be surprised the following morning to learn that our Prime Minster was very ill with COVID-19. So was God speaking to me on this occasion also, just like the first one, I believe God does speak to us if we stay close to Him. I’m glad I prayed in the moment, I didn’t have to wait until I got home!

LoveConquersAll - KindnessMatters

I spend some time on Twitter, at least twice a day tweeting about love and kindness to counter the ever growing hate and commotion that accompanied almost every decision leaders were making during this pandemic or quarantine rules and associated behaviours. I also wanted to fully embed love and kindness in my lifestyle and continue to reflect on my actions, attitudes, thoughts and behaviours daily. I’m so glad I listened to ‘that voice’. Kindness and loving unconditionally is liberating and I will always endeavour to be loving and to be kind. It’s the greatest feeling in the world when you’re able to easily forgive, easily love and are kind to others without expecting anything in return. I will leave you with a blog I specifically asked the question: How can you deliver compassionate care without love and kindness?

My cup ran empty at some point in 2020 which reminded me of this quote: “You can’t pour from an empty cup” so as you can tell, I parked SSI prevention campaigns for a bit and will resume in 2021!

Happy New Year filled with more Love and Kindness

Thank you all for your love and support in 2020 and I hope that 2021 will be better for us all. Keep loving & let kindness flow through your bones. #LoveConquersAll #KindnessMatters

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