Why NHS workers are ‘smiling with their eyes’ at Covid-19 patients in Sheffield hospitals

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“With NHS workers like myself in full PPE, patients with Covid-19 can’t see our mouths, so it’s important to try to smile with our eyes,” says Paris Hulley.

“It’s important to make a connection any way we can, which isn’t easy in so much gear, but these people are all on their own, with no family or friends around, and they’re scared and struggling to breathe; they’re fighting for their lives, so we just hold their hands, and do the best we can.”

Paris has just completed her fourth shift back as a bank support worker for Sheffield’s Northern General and Royal Hallamshire hospitals, since rejoining the NHS last month.

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“I worked for NHS Professional for two years doing bank work when I was 18 before taking a job with Aviva,” she says.

Paris Hulley is working on the frontline in Sheffield hospitalsParis Hulley is working on the frontline in Sheffield hospitals
Paris Hulley is working on the frontline in Sheffield hospitals | Other 3rd Party

“When Aviva closed its doors last month, I got back in touch with the NHS, as I knew they were desperate for people, and asked if they needed my help, and they said yes.”Paris received a two-week training course to complete, to get her up to speed, which she managed to finish in just three days.

“My first shift back was on a covid ward,” says the 21-year-old, of Intake.

“I didn’t know what to expect, and that first day was hard.

“It’s horrible the things you do see, but you just have to get on with it.”

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Paris reveals precautions for healthcare staff are being taken very seriously at the Sheffield hospitals, with workers wearing masks at all times, even when not in contact with patients, and maintaining the two metre spacing when they’re not in full PPE.

“Before every patient, we have to put on a full gown which covers our entire body, then an apron, a surgical mask, a head shield, and surgical gloves up to our elbows, and another pair of gloves over the top, so I’m sure you can imagine it gets pretty sweaty and stuffy,” she says.

“At the moment we have the right amount of stock in, but I know they are starting to struggle a bit with the sheer amount of times we all need to change, because you see one patient, come out, strip it off, and then put new gear on to go to the next patient.

“I do feel secure, I feel safe.

“We’re washing our hands and arms constantly, after every patient, and there are lots of cleaning stations.

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“Everything is digital now, and all tablets and laptops on wards are being constantly disinfected.

“We all just want to do the best we can for each patient, and the phone never stops ringing with worried family members.

“We pass messages back and forth, to keep that line of communication open, and just try to show them as much love as we can.”

Paris comes from a family of healthcare professionals, and her mum works in Northern General’s Accident & Emergency department as a nursing associate.

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“I haven’t seen my mum properly in weeks, as we’re obviously keeping away from each other, but I have been able to wave at her across a room every now and then.”

Paris reveals her mum was her inspiration for going to work in healthcare straight out of college.

“I loved the work but, at 18, some of the tougher aspects of the job took their toll a little on my mental health,” she explains.

“I decided to make the move to Aviva, and I love my job there, but when this all happened a few weeks ago, I knew I had to step up and help.

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“I’ve been picking up shifts wherever I’m needed and just doing my best to pitch in, like everybody else.

“I take my hat off to all key workers in all areas, and the fantastic work they’re doing to get us through this.

“The support for NHS workers is fantastic, and in the hospitals themselves, everyone is communicating with each other, and keeping each other going.

“When you arrive for your shift, people are smiling, and everyone is pulling together. It’s like a big family.

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“The atmosphere on the wards is, as much as possible, a positive one. We’re putting that vibe out there, because that’s what we want the patients to feel and pick up on.”

And Paris says, for her, downtime has played a big role in keeping her mental health in check.

“On my days off, I’m at home with my partner Bradley, who’s so supportive,” she says.

“I’m sitting in the garden, relaxing, walking our dogs, and drinking lots of tea.

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“I think it’s so important to take that quiet time for yourself, so that when it’s time to put on your uniform and head back out there, you’re in the right frame of mind to do your job.

“When I finish my shift, I’m able to hop in an Uber straight to my door, as they’re providing free rides to NHS workers.

“I take off my clothes at the door, and put them in a special bag, provided by the hospital, that goes straight into my washing machine and evaporates as it washes.

“From there, I shower, disinfect the door handles, and then I’m home, I’m safe.”

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When the subject turns to the importance of people staying home, Paris is sombre.

“It’s going to be a while before we’re all living our lives as normal again,” she says.

“I don’t think, unless people have seen it firsthand, they can really understand how bad it is. You can be absolutely fine one minute, and the next you’re showing symptoms, so meeting up and socialising with others is the worst thing people can do.

“This is not going to go away unless people do their part, and stay home.

“The youngest patient I’ve seen on the ward, in just four shifts, was 44.

“We need your help. Please, please, unless you’re a key worker, and you need to be out, please stay home.”