Sep 11, 2020

The staff in my father’s aged care home made sure he died with dignity

To the night nurse who offered her own mobile phone for us to say goodbye: I don’t even know your name, but thank you.

I really wanted this to be about how we got Dad through a Covid-19 outbreak. Instead, this is a tribute to the healthcare workers who looked after him and made sure he died with whatever dignity Covid-19 can offer.

On 6 August, my father’s aged care facility went into outbreak mode after a staff member returned a positive coronavirus result.

I had a video chat screen in Dad’s room. I could hear and chat with the staff on most days.

To the carers who were there on that first day of the outbreak, when mayhem ensued, when you donned your gowns, surgical masks and face shields and followed the guidelines, I heard you make my dad laugh about the situation instead of be fearful. Thank you. You also made me feel comforted. Because at that stage all I cared about was if Dad was happy or not.

Over the following days, staff were furloughed, carers were infected and there were a lot of new staff coming and going doing their best. But the case numbers kept rising and the guidelines kept changing.

To the carers and nurses who had taken care of Dad over the months prior, but had chosen not to work during an outbreak, I’m glad you made that decision. I was worried about you and your family. You did the right thing. As my dad would have said, you have to look after you first.

To the ones who decided to stay on and had to witness your workplace go from a vibrant place bustling with people and activity to an infectious zone filled with PPE and hospital staff, I feel for you. Having to witness the residents you once cared for and laughed with, now fall sick from either Covid-19 or from weeks of isolation, I can’t imagine the heartbreak.

To the carers who looked after my dad while he was infectious, before the government directive that N95 masks need to be worn, I heard my dad cough when you tended to him and I feared for you. You deserved better protection. The government guidelines came in too late for you. I tried to tell your provider but they just kept saying, “We are following the guidelines.” 

Many of us are angry with the government for letting down our loved ones in aged care. But we don’t feel that way towards the staff.

To the ones who had known Dad as a happy eater and were now pleading with him to just eat something, anything, I know you tried hard to get him to eat. We all did.

To the ones who did the long hours, who missed events with their kids, who had pregnant wives due any minute, who would answer the phone at 9am and then again at 10pm when I’d call for another update, God knows how long your hours were. I know your backs were killing you and your families missed you, yet you still showed up.

To the aged care nurse who, by this stage, was one of the few remaining original staff on site that knew my dad, I can’t thank you enough for being an advocate for him. You made sure the doctors didn’t solely see Dad through the lens of aged care. Together we told the doctor that Dad was a bright and happy person who loved life, and we wanted to make sure he got the right treatment.

But we quickly learned that the doctors actually saw him through the lens of Covid. And they knew better than us just how aggressive Covid is. This wasn’t a chest infection. There was no real treatment.

You tried really hard to make sure he was given the chance to die with his family. The words you shared with us over the phone are some of the most important words I’ll ever carry with me.

To the night nurse who called me at 5.30am and who offered her own mobile phone for us to say goodbye – I don’t even know your name or what you look like. There are so many of you facilitating those last words that you know you aren’t meant to hear, but we have no choice. We are all placed in this position trying to find the best way through it, and you did find the best way. Thank you for facilitating our last Skype call.

I can’t imagine the emotional impact this is having on some of you. This is a lonely time, but there are hundreds of loved ones that want to say thank you.

Many of us are angry with the government for letting down our loved ones in aged care. But we don’t feel that way towards the staff. Before Covid-19 you’ve been nothing but caring to my dad, and during Covid-19 you have gone above and beyond and have been damn good at your jobs.

Four weeks into the outbreak at my dad’s facility, the number of Covid-infected staff outweighed the number of Covid-infected residents. Our healthcare workers and aged care staff continue to get infected. They need our support, along with appropriate PPE and infection control.


This story was originally published in The Guardian and has been republished with the author’s consent.

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