In January 2020, rumours were circulating throughout the world about a new virus – COVID 19. Information was starting to be shared about ways to prevent catching this unknown virus. By February, within St Margaret of Scotland Hospice, we started downloading the NHS and Scottish Government posters to put up in common areas alerting people to the guidance, but we felt safe in the knowledge that we probably would not need them.
As the days and weeks rolled on, we started to hear of positive cases, hospitalisations, people in ICU gasping for breath and on ventilators, our hospitals reaching capacity, and then the deaths. All this just weeks after the Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the XXVIII World Day of the Sick 2020.
The year 2020, was the 70th year of St Margaret of Scotland Hospice and we had many events planned to commemorate this great anniversary. On 11 March 2020, we were due to have a Business Breakfast for potential Hospice supporters and our first fundraising event of the year, The Swing Jazz Lunch, was scheduled for 22 March – the day before the whole of the UK went into lockdown. Both events were cancelled and suddenly everything changed within the Hospice. We felt sure our other events, including 70th Anniversary Ball, Sports Dinner, our Annual Christmas Bus and other planned celebrations for later in the year would be fine – we were very wrong.
The guidance and regulations started pouring in by email, changing day by day and becoming more and more stringent. We had people working from home, so completely new IT systems had to be set up, and our valued Hospice shops were closed as all non-essential retail was not allowed to operate. Mass which was normally celebrated every day in the Hospice stopped. This was such a great loss to our patients who benefited so much in attending our services. But most importantly for the Hospice, we had to stop our routine, open visiting. This was absolutely devastating for our patients, their families, and our staff. We quickly utilised all the technology available to us to maintain contact – FaceTime, What’s App, Zoom, Attend Anywhere. And all of this facilitated by nurses who had to wear full PPE all day, every day.
The number of new cases just seemed to continue to rise, and everyone was becoming afraid. Our roads were bare of cars, public transport passed by completely empty of passengers, and all around the world, lockdowns were happening day after day, country after country. The travel industry was brought into chaos as no-one could go anywhere. And we became all too familiar with a new vocabulary – “furlough”, “lockdown”, “unprecedented”, “self-isolation”, “the new norm”.
Easter was around the corner, and we were assured that by following the instructions of lockdown, listening to all the guidance, and limiting all social contact, we could look forward to “normality” by Easter. Again, we were very wrong.
During the month of May, I asked our Hospices, our Sisters in the Province and wider Congregation, our friends and families to all come together each day at 8pm to share in one decade of the Rosary asking Our Lady for her protection. This was shared worldwide via email and our Facebook page. On Saturday 30 May, Pope Francis led a worldwide Rosary from the Vatican Gardens which again was widely shared, and Decades of the Rosary were recited by nurses, doctors, patients, and chaplains who had direct experience of the COVID pandemic. During June, we asked everyone to recite the Sacred Heart at least three times daily to continue to keep all our patients, staff, families, Sisters and all those we love and care for safe from this pandemic; something we continue to do as part of our daily reflections which are shared three times a day at the Hospice.
Each week, I sent an update to all staff, and wider reaching friends and family. This ensures all current and imminent guidance is available to everyone in an easy-to-read way. An integral part of this update are two scripture passages, the reminder of our Prayer of Trust, and the update always closes with a reflection.
Who would ever have thought we would now be approaching our third Easter still affected by this virus and still having many tens of thousands of people catching COVID every day?
Within the Hospice we have learned to adapt to live with COVID. Due to our patient group, we were always able to maintain some form of physical visiting on compassionate grounds and have slowly been able to expand this, although only very recently as we continued to have stringent guidance in Scotland. We have welcomed back all those staff who were working from home, we are at last starting to prepare for fundraising events and with the help of God, we may soon be able to enjoy the freedoms so many took for granted.
Sr Rita Dawson RSC