My name is Henny Bernstein and I've been working as a paediatric speech therapist in Havering for almost 3 years. I got the job straight after completing my SLT degree.
At university, I learnt about adults with speech, language and swallowing needs and completed a short adult placement but I had very little experience of working with adults, even talking to elderly people was new to me, as my grandparents passed away when I was younger.
I was the only member of my SLT team to be redeployed initially. I was then joined by two other SLT colleagues for a short time before they decided they no longer wanted to work on the ward.
On my first day I was really scared as I had no idea what to expect and I didn't know anyone there. I spoke to Matron and she really reassured me. She told me everyone was in the same position and everyone was scared but we will be working as a team to get through this. She also introduced me to some great colleagues who looked after me from that day onwards.
The training was quite intense, but useful. By the end of all the training, I felt much more prepared and ready to start learning with actual patients. I was really nervous about going on the ward but I knew I just needed to do it to get past that fear.
I learnt so much in the first few weeks, for example, personal care which was something I was really worried about. I now feel more comfortable with it and learnt that it is actually the patients that are more embarrassed and I just wanted to do my best job and keep them comfortable.
One day I gave a lady that had been in the hospital a while, her first proper shower. She was so happy, she told everyone she saw. Something so small to me was such a big thing to her.
One of the things I liked the most was when patients learnt my name. It felt good when they specifically asked for me when they needed something or seeing their face light up when they saw me. I have heard so many amazing stories about patients lives. War stories, working life and family drama. I love it when I build a connection with a patient. Although this was also one of the hardest things as I found it hard seeing patients deteriorate or be given bad news. Multiple times I had to sit with patients after being told they were not safe to go home and needed a care home. I found this really hard and a few of the patients have stuck in my mind and I wonder how they are getting on.
Every so often I got to use my speech and language therapy skills. Like showing everyone how to thicken drinks and making visuals for confused patients. It felt good to be able to bring that knowledge to the ward. I have learnt some lessons for life during redeployment, here are some of those:
- There is no point putting things off that you are going to have to do, you might as well get stuck right in and avoid the anxiety of the unknown
- However hard you try to not emotionally attach to patients, sometimes you just can't help it and that makes it is hard to switch off when you go home.
- How strong I am and I can do things I never imagined
- Sometimes I need to put myself first.
I have decided to go back to my speech and language therapy job as I was finding redeployment physically and emotionally draining and I needed to put my own health first but it was such a difficult decision and I feel really sad to be going. I am finding it hard comforting sad patients and I found I would go home and still be thinking about them and feeling the sadness. It is also hard because my only proper experience of a hospital is visiting my Aunty and being on the ward was bringing up a lot of memories.
The thing that kept me going for so long was the amazing group of people I worked with and the brilliant management team. I was honest about how I felt from the start and that really helped me be supported by all.
This has honestly been one of the greatest things I have done. I am so grateful to have been given this experience. I feel very proud of what I have achieved and to have been a small part of patients’ recovery and helping the NHS in this crazy time.
I am going to miss everyone so much but I know I have made friends for life and have a support group of people who have been through this with me.