Erica and Donald

Erica Reid in conversation with
Donald Macaskill

Donald is CEO of Scottish Care, a membership organisation and the representative body for independent care homes. Erica Reid has recently retired as a community nurse leader in the NHS.

Reflections on 26 weeks

It was 106 days from the first declaration by the Chinese Government of the ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ on Hogmanay 2019 to my positive COVID test. In 106 days it had travelled over 5,000 miles to reach me. I’m lucky: mild breathlessness gone in hours, muscle aches in days, fatigue in weeks, only anosmia stays with me.  It is much more worrying that it took 106 days for us to acknowledge the many deaths from COVID in Care Homes across our country, and eventually include them in the national numbers.

During this time, I became angry and frustrated. Angry at how testing was limited to people admitted to hospitals and frustrated that I knew there were older people in their homes suffering from significant Covid symptoms but denied testing and symptom relief if not life-saving treatment. It was then that Donald Macaskill came to my attention on Twitter. He seemed to be the only person speaking out for the suffering and harm that our systematic neglect of older people in Care Homes was causing. A voice in the wilderness of a society that, by its actions, was telling us, our older people were expendable.

Our care home residents have been put in what can only be described as a ‘protective house arrest’ since early March. What was it like for them and those that cared for them? I had to find out more.

Nicky’s mother is living with dementia in a care home. I felt Nicky’s anguish as she described how her mother showed few signs now of knowing her. She worried that these ‘moments of connection’ would disappear, that her mother, unable to see her daughter, would soon forget her. My stomach clenched when she said that while her head understood the restrictions, her heart did not.

I spoke with Jasmine and felt like a war photographer, powerless to have an impact other than capturing the story. Jasmine is in her early twenties, and in her first carer post. I was worried after our first conversation when she described the shocking lack of PPE: few masks, no visors, and aprons in short supply. I wasn’t surprised on our next meeting, when she said COVID has struck her care home. Several deaths followed. I felt somehow complicit. Her first encounter with death was a man who had moved into the home only a few weeks earlier. ‘It was like his face was melting away, and his stomach was going in on itself because he couldn’t breath’.

Jane, a chief executive of care homes, has managed to keep COVID outside the doors. ‘It’s like being on a ship, set adrift, lost at sea, nowhere safe to harbour,” Jane says. She feels an overwhelming anxiety to protect her residents. I was relieved when she took a short break just after the first lockdown ended. I was concerned about how she could continue to sustain the pressure of her work and self-imposed isolation.

We are all living more insular lives and will continue to do so for some time. I will miss my conversations with Donald, listening with admiration at his relentless focus on keeping the plight of care home residents high on the political agenda. Writing is part of his life and we shared our love of words. I look forward to reading his memoirs of this time.

Erica Reid

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