Losing touch in the Coronavirus pandemic

One of the few positives to have come out of the Covid19 pandemic has been the extent to which folks have got in touch with me through social media with at times very personal questions, concerns and stories.

This weekend I have been thinking a lot about those who will not have managed to be in physical contact with their families because of the lockdown that care homes and the rest of society is experiencing. This is very hard indeed but perhaps it is hardest for those who have a family member who is at the stage of receiving active palliative care and who are at the end of their life.

I have also spent time this weekend considering with colleagues the importance of enabling families, with appropriate safeguards and protection, to be present at the death of their loved ones.

I received a message from the wife of one of the residents in a care home this morning. She said:

“ I was initially very frightened about the virus, but I wanted to be with John. The staff supported me so much and made sure I was wearing the right protection… I know it was not ideal… but I was at least there… I am so grateful for them… even though I was wearing gloves I held his hand as he passed… that was so important … I felt the touch of his heart through my fingers.”

If we have the opportunity, being present with those who we know and care for at the end of their lives is so very important. It can help a great deal to know that they were comfortable, able to feel and have the sense that we were there.

Sadly, for too many in hospitals and in care homes this has not been possible in the last few weeks. Despite all the challenges and restrictions, I know that staff have tried to keep people in touch, through recorded videos and voice messages. Staff have spent time in care homes speaking about family members and loved ones to someone who is dying especially as for many care home staff they have known the families through their visits and contact for a long period of time. It is  these amazing care home staff who through their voices have sought to console and comfort, whose hands have offered the touch to remove fear and soothe anxiety, and whose presence has instilled solace and assurance. I know through all my work across Scotland’s care homes that staff are skilled at simply being there, alongside in silence and in word, with those who are dying,  there to hold someone’s hand in the last minutes of life.

Along with others I fear the damage that is being done to us as individuals by being denied or prevented from having these opportunities. So, over the next week, with others, we will attempt to do everything we can to make it easier for care homes to admit a family member to be present in the last hours and moments of someone’s life. It might not always be possible, but I really think it is of such fundamental importance that we all of us need to try our hardest – despite the obvious challenges – to enable this to happen.

“I felt the touch of his heart through my fingers.”

Donald Macaskill