Suzie is a Health Care Assistant (HCA) at our High Wycombe Home. Here, as part of Royal Star & Garter’s Covid: Life on the frontline series, she talks about the impact the virus has had on her and the Home.

 I remember being at work, it was March, and someone came around with face masks and said we need to wear them at all times in the Home. Everything got real then, and I thought ‘Oh my God!’ I burst into tears, because I didn’t know how I was going to cope with wearing the mask for 12 hours. I put it on and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But one of my managers gave me a big hug – it was before we were told to social distance – and said not to worry, that we’re all in this together, and that made me feel better.

When lockdown happened I was lucky. My youngest son and his girlfriend, who was expecting a child, had come to visit and they ended up staying. I had to look after them as well as myself, and I was glad to have the company, otherwise I would’ve been on my own and I don’t think that would’ve been very good for my mental health. It could’ve been so different and much worse. I’ve had the opportunity to come to work, had the support of my colleagues, and it got me out of the house. I have had my son at home, which has been so important because I don’t think I would’ve got through this if I was coming back to an empty house with no-one to talk to.

After about a week or so I had to come to a decision. What happens if one of our residents gets Covid while I’m working? I sat down with my manager and said if a resident or colleague gets Covid I can’t go home. I told her I’m high risk myself with Type 1 diabetes, and my son’s girlfriend was pregnant, so I had to protect her. My other daughter is also high risk, and my parents are over 80 and my dad has heart failure. The only place I thought I could stay is my other home, which is here. My manager said that was fine. I spoke to all my children and explained to them my plan. I said if anything happens to me, at least I’ve been doing the job that I love. I said to them, “Don’t worry I’ll be fine.

I turned 50 during lockdown. It wasn’t the birthday I was anticipating or had planned for. I was going to have a party and everything, but didn’t because obviously we were in lockdown. My daughter came and threw my birthday present over the fence and we had a long-distance hug. I went to work that day, and after lunch my colleagues had organised a small surprise party for me. We danced and had cake. It was a lovely day. They made it special, because even though I wasn’t able to spend it with my family, I got to spend it with my other family! It was really nice and something I will never forget.

Working together in the pandemic has actually brought the team at High Wycombe closer together. We look out for each other and we’ve bonded even more. You make a point of asking others, “Are you OK?”, and they’ll say “Yeah.” But then you ask, “Are you really OK?”, and then they might say something like “I’m just having a rubbish day,” and open up. I remember there were a couple of colleagues who were off when we were told to wear the face masks. And when they came back to work and put the masks on for the first time, they panicked. So I told them to come outside, take off the masks, take deep breaths and drink some water. I told them I felt the same when I first put on a mask. I told them I knew how they felt because I felt the same a week earlier. We’re here for each other, we’re all leaning on each other. It’s what you’d do for family and the people you love.

If anything, the care has got better during the pandemic. It was always amazing, but we’re really focussed on wearing PPE, washing our hands, making sure the surfaces are clean. We’re helping out colleagues.

We try to keep residents going too, but that’s not easy. I think a few of them have found it quite hard. You try to explain to them what’s going on, and that this is the safest place they can be. They have phone and video calls, socially-distanced outdoor visits, and use our new Covid-secure meeting rooms. But they ask why their loved ones aren’t coming in to see them like before. It’s especially tough for someone living with dementia because it’s hard to explain to them. They’ll know and understand, and then a short while later they’ll ask why no-one’s coming to visit them. We have to explain that we can’t let them come in for a while. But it’s been good that they can have the face-to-face visits outside and in the Covid-secure rooms, because you can see the boost to their morale, you can see that they’re all happy again because they have seen their families. We’ve all seen how good it is for their well-being, and I know from experience.

My Mum and Dad live down the road and know what time I start and finish. I walk past theirs every day to go to work. So every morning they’re at the window and they wave as I go past. My Dad goes out about once a month, and during lockdown they didn’t go out at all. It means the world to me and them.

The worst moment I’ve had was when I got a call at 3.30am from my oldest son, telling me my Mum was at the bottom of the stairs crying out in pain. I jumped out of bed in my pyjamas, jumped in the car and got straight down there. We had to get her sorted and call an ambulance. I couldn’t go with her to the hospital, and that was heart-breaking. My parents know if they’re ever ill, I’m right by their side. And now I couldn’t be with my Mum. Watching her go off to hospital, and not being with her, broke my heart, but I had to let her go. It was horrible waiting for the hospital to call back. I didn’t want to bother them every five minutes asking if my Mum was OK. As it was, she was fine and was released from hospital after three or four days.

Looking forward, life has to go on. I go shopping once a week and that’s it. All my time is spent at work or at home. That’s what we have to do to keep our residents safe, we care so much about them. And we’re doing a good job. We’ve all done our bit at work and outside of work. And we’ll continue to do so.