Wellness

Key workers: our new heroes

They don’t wear capes – they wear PPE. And they came to our rescue during the worst global crisis in a generation. Nine key workers tell their stories
Karen Jenkins, prison officer
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Karen Jenkins, prison officer

‘My job is a vocation. At the moment, it’s more difficult – prisoners can’t have visits from their families, so I’m a shoulder to cry on. But the prisoners’ sense of humour has got us through tough weeks. They even raised £350 for the NHS! They know we’re working extra hard for them, but as they’re used to being locked in and we aren’t, they’re helping us as much as we’re helping them.’

What I know now: ‘Before, I felt like we had a world full of hate, but now it’s brighter, with people trying to be nicer.’

Nelab Sabiri, care worker*
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Nelab Sabiri, care worker*

‘The residents are why I never give up. Their loved ones can’t visit, so they’ll say “you’re my family”. When I visit with my PPE gear on, some with dementia don’t recognise me and I have to explain again about the safety measures. It’s so hard not to give them a hug or hold hands. We used to dance around in the morning together, but we can’t now. It makes me cry.’

What I know now: ‘The world will get back to normal gradually, but we mustn’t forget this time. We’ll appreciate everything more and it will be a better life.’

Kate Gilheaney, childminder***
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Kate Gilheaney, childminder***

‘I’ve been looking after the children of frontline staff. I discussed it with my teenage daughters and we decided we were happy to take the risk. Some of my regular parents whose kids I can’t look after now have insisted on paying me anyway, which is so kind it made me cry! Twice a week I film myself reading a bedtime story and send it to their kids, just to keep that connection.’

What I know now: ‘The crisis has shown there are more good people than bad. I hope there’s a change in pace, too, as less stress has made people happier. And we’ll always keep a stash of loo roll and pasta!’

Michelle Harvey, life celebrant
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Michelle Harvey, life celebrant

‘As more people have to watch loved ones’ funerals via live video links, never have words been so important for comfort, support and healing. I’ll never forget the sight of funeral directors and pall-bearers wearing full PPE at a service. And yesterday I had to take a double service for a father and son who’d died from Covid-19. I cried all the way home.’

What I know now: ‘None of us are in this alone – we’re shoulder to shoulder in a line of people who are there to give support, care and love.’

Natasha Sardarizadeh, ITU nurse
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Natasha Sardarizadeh, ITU nurse

‘I was living at home, but to protect my family I’ve paid to move into an Airbnb. I have to be unemotional in my job, but that was tested recently playing voice-notes to a patient from his family, as it made me think about what he was like before Covid-19. But the camaraderie with other staff gets me through – it’s lovely to have people from all walks of life working together to help people.’

What I know now: ‘I hope people will respect us more and how much we do on such a little budget!’

Vicky Field, postwoman
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Vicky Field, postwoman

‘I feel it’s my job to help my community. So when
a mum I know on my route was in tears because she couldn’t get Calpol for her sick twin babies, I tracked some down and drove it to her. The camaraderie at work keeps our spirits up and we have a chuckle when unusual things get sent! And it’s great to feel so appreciated on my rounds – one customer left a massive cake on their doorstep for me.’

What I know now: ‘I’d like to hope it becomes a gentler world and that people look out for each other and realise material things don’t matter.’

Kelly Thompson, paramedic
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Kelly Thompson, paramedic

‘I do my job out of love. Though I’m generally not a worrier, I’ve been writing poems about my feelings. Taking seriously ill people out of their homes, away from loved ones, is hard, especially if they don’t get to say goodbye and you know they probably won’t make it. My colleagues and I call ourselves “The Green Family” and turn to each other for emotional support to protect our families.’

What I know now: ‘You don’t have to travel hundreds of miles for time out. It doesn’t cost anything to have fun!’

Hadeal Jaidy, Boots pharmacist
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Hadeal Jaidy, Boots pharmacist

‘I became a pharmacist to help people, so it was important to carry on. I had to move out of home to safeguard my family – I’ve never lived away before, so I miss them! A kind local hotel** owner, Robert Mason, provided a free room and I’m so grateful. My team and manager are really supportive. One colleague has even taken my clothes home to wash!’

What I know now: ‘We’ve all discovered that in tough times there’s a sense of community, support and hope. And acts of simple kindness make the world a better place.’

Trish Albino Tsanga, mental health nurse
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Trish Albino Tsanga, mental health nurse

‘This crisis has helped me see the importance of mental health nurses. You can imagine the impact of this on someone with depression, and I want to help them find resilience. It’s great to feel appreciated and the Thursday evening #ClapForOurCarers will stay with me forever. Our friends have also been leaving food hampers.’

What I know now: ‘I’ll appreciate friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and the community a lot more. And I’ll never take for granted being able to visit friends.’

*housing21.org.uk **quitesimplyfrench.co.uk ***The Wonder Years Childminding.
Artwork: Geraldine Lynch, TJSCreates. Thanks to Karen, Nelab, Michelle, Natasha, Kelly, Hadeal, Kate, Vicky and Trish for the photos