Working and Retired Nurses Keeping in Touch
14 March 2019 | Jane Wright, Queen's Nurse
I volunteer for the Queen’s Nursing Institute’s (QNI) Keep In Touch project (KIT), which involves regular contact with a former Queen’s Nurse.
As nurses, especially community nurses, we are very aware of the impact of social isolation and loneliness, which is often as a result of being housebound (Cattan, 2010). Let me explain by telling you a little bit about my friend. I will call her Betty.
Imagine you have been a nurse, health visitor, a Queen’s Nurse. You have managed health visitor teams, which included director-level roles within the NHS. You have had a diverse career, which has taken you to Africa, China and Bulgaria as a volunteer for Save the Children and Christian Aid. In Africa you became very ill after contracting encephalitis – this nearly saw you off. However, you returned home to the UK and after a lengthy battle you recovered, and once again went back to your first love – nursing. Now in your 90s and widowed, the impact of this once busy life is telling. You struggle to mobilise and feel unsafe to go out on your own in case you fall, or cannot make it back to the safety of your flat. So you rely on friends and family to take you out for the day – thankfully you have good friends and family.
Keep in Touch
One day Betty was contacted by the QNI and offered the opportunity to chat to a fellow Queen’s Nurse, one who does not see the disabling impact of age and disease but is merely a friendly voice on the other end of the phone. But could you talk to a complete stranger? Yes, of course, you could – we are nurses, it’s what we excel at! So the QNI put the two of us in touch for a regular phone conversation.
Betty readily talked about her career and experiences as a nurse, which was great as she often felt she bored her friends and family with these stories. As a fellow nurse, I was interested, I hadn’t heard the stories before and wanted to know how Betty had managed these challenging situations. We also shared a moan or two about the lack of funding in the NHS and the invisibility of community nursing. Better yet, we had a laugh about general day-to-day things that happen to you in a way that only nurses can understand. We have a strange sense of humour, us nurses!
So what about me, the volunteer, what do I get out of this?
I find this a very valuable and rewarding experience, my phone call, and yes sometimes my meetings run late and I am late contacting Betty, or they run so late I know that Betty will be with her carers, so I give her a call when I have a minute the next day and we re-schedule; that’s life! Betty and I have agreed that these things happen and we will eventually catch up and move on from there; she knows what it’s like after all.
Nonetheless, I can hear that the call, usually 20 – 30 minutes, sometimes longer if we are on a roll, makes a difference to Betty. Sometimes at the start of our conversations, she seems weary, and I think I will not keep her long today. Then I ask a question and she perks up and we’re off! 40 minutes later my calendar is telling me I’m late for a tutorial or a meeting… story of my life!
In late October 2018 Betty was unwell. I had concerns during our last conversation – things were not quite right, you know as nurses… we just know. Unfortunately, Betty was admitted to hospital and died a few days later. I write this blog in memory of a wonderful person, a nurse, who had led a wonderful and fulfilling life.
Jane Wright, Queen’s Nurse
Find Jane on Twitter: @archimedesjane
Cattan, M. (2010) The use of telephone befriending in low-level support for socially isolated older people – an evaluation. Health and Social Care in the Community, 19(2), 198-206.
Photo shows Keep In Touch project volunteers at the Queen’s Nurses annual meeting in 2018.