Ruth Radley Link Letter no.32 February 2021

Hi everyone,

Well, I can’t believe I am writing another letter in this COVID time – here we were all hoping it wouldn’t last this long. Oh, how wrong we can be! I hope that you are all well and not struggling too much, I know that there are so many challenges for many.

We are continuing as best we can, but I think it’s fair to say everyone is fairly exhausted. We remind the nurses regularly that doing the very traumatic work that happens here is so very tough when all your coping mechanisms have been taken away.

We also have a large number of staff who have gone to help at the adult hospitals, with many being well out of their comfort zone. Nursing adults is very different to nursing children, let alone all the other different things they are encountering. The hospital is taking their welfare very seriously and we chaplains are part of the team encouraging these staff to ensure they are as OK as they can be.

Specially-made stones used in staff support.

Chaplaincy have also been asked to help the team at the large NHS trust in Birmingham and I have offered staff and family support. I would have liked to have been on the on-call rota and helped in that way, but I am also aware that Dad died not that long ago, and with it being of COVID, being by the bedside of someone else dying in the same way may just trigger grief I have not yet been able to deal with, and a sobbing chaplain at the bedside helps no one! I don’t usually do on-call at the children’s, but again have offered to do some to help share the burden.

Due to visiting restrictions, we have patients who have not seen their siblings in a year. Siblings are a great concern to us. We have done some research in this area already, but we are aware that all we have previously discovered will be true, if not even heightened, in these times of COVID. One thing I have done for a few patients is made cards out of hand/foot prints that can then be sent home to the siblings at regular intervals giving news or simply telling them that they are loved. Liz, one of my amazing colleagues, is working on some packs for siblings that can go home with parents, to remind them that we may not see them, but we are aware that they are there and they are important to us. We are not sure where this will lead, but we hope it will be something of help and comfort to all.

Some of the cards I have made for siblings.

It snowed a couple of weeks ago here, and I was able to get some untouched snow and take it into some long-term children on one of my wards. One mum recorded our play so that she could show it to the siblings. We were quite proud of our small snowman….

The snowman we made on the ward.

Another challenge was our annual memorial walk at the national arboretum in September. Usually families come, we meet together in a large room, make crafts, and go on a communal walk along the riverside. Showing how important these events are to many families, we got a good response to an initial letter we sent, the essence of which was, “We are not entirely sure what we are going to do this year, but if you want to join in with what we don’t know we are doing, please let us know!!!!” We were eventually able to run this in a very different way to usual! Instead of making the crafts together, we made all the crafts ahead of the event and families chose one to place on the tree and one to take away for themselves, and could write the name of the child they were remembering on them.

Families did their own riverside walks, and members of our team were waiting – masked and socially distanced – under a gazebo to welcome them. Some families wanted us to accompany them to the tree, where sunflowers were also laid in memory. In some cases, we shared some words, in others we were a silent presence with them. Some families brought their own picnics and sat around the area where we were based. The arboretum gave us a large area so this could be done safely and well distanced from any other families there. It worked incredibly well, and we are currently working on a virtual memorial service in May for our families.

Our memorial tree with individual hearts and sunflowers for each child remembered.

Christmas was also interesting, we had no external visitors and it was very different! Our carol service this year was recorded and could be accessed by all. I also wrote a fun animation aimed at raising spirits in a tough time called The Virus who Tried to Steal Christmas, showing how Christmas WOULD still be celebrated in the hospital, with a final message of, “love, like a virus, can be anywhere”. We were astounded that this got 20K hits on the hospital Facebook page and had many shares! If you have not seen it and would like to, please click here.

A screenshot of the final message from our Christmas animation.

Thank you so much for your continuing support for my work in so many ways – as you can see, there is so much to be done, and it is such a privilege to continue to be by patients’ bedsides and walk with them and their families through these tough times. At this time, my funding is a little tighter than we would like it to be, so please do pray that this can change and I can carry on with the team here.

Thank you all so much,

Ruth

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