Coronavirus: Northwick Park paedriatic therapists tell of their redeployment to hospital morgue
PUBLISHED: 15:12 10 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:57 11 June 2020
Two Northwick Park Hospital therapists have told of their experiences after they were redeployed from treating children to working in the mortuary department during the Covid-19 pandemic peak.
Catherine Anderson and Celine Broad had no clue of what was awaiting them when they volunteered to help with the high number of daily deaths down in the morgue.
The two paediatric occupational therapists at the Watford Road hospital are part of a group of volunteers who were redeployed to mortuaries run by the North West London University Trust.
Mortuary daily totals across Northwick Park, Ealing, Central and Middlesex hospitals was around nine to ten each day pre-covid and peaked at between 28 and 33 during a two week period in April.
“It was a surreal experience,” said Catherine, 27. “Working with children is obviously very different from going down and working in a mortuary. We all got on with everybody, we all got stuck in and got on with it. We all carried each other and will stay in touch.”
Given full training before they started, many tasks included checking the bodies for any jewellery, any medical tubes attached, taking measurements, and filling in paperwork to give to funeral directors.
They were also asked to call the families to find out what funeral directors they had chosen and to offer extra comfort and support.
Celine, 25, said: “A lot of people weren’t able to see their loved ones as they were passing away and we weren’t able to offer viewings as would normally happen in a mortuary. So they were grateful there was someone on the other side of the line who they knew were dealing with the bodies with dignity and respect.”
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She added: “Because of infection control we were limited to what we could do tending the bodies, We did make sure they looked as comfortable as possible so sometimes that meant putting pillows under their head.”
The nurses said they went “on a bit of a journey” as prior to the crisis they were visiting schools. Neither had ever seen a dead body and were dealing with all deaths, not just covid-related deaths, so cared for all deceased from babies to old people,
“The first dead body I saw for me was really tough but in the back of my head I thought ‘there’s a crisis out here, we need to be part of that front line, it helps support the NHS, it’s what we have to do,” Catherine said.
“The sheer velocity of bodies coming down due to this horrible deadly disease, that just overwhelmed me. It’s definitely been an eye opening moment that reminded me that life’s too short and not to take anything for granted.”
Celine said she learnt how to be more resilient.
“When you see numbers on TV it means something but it doesn’t hit home quite as much when you see the physicality of it and you see that it does target anyone, it can target people of all ages, it doesn’t really discriminate. It puts faces to those numbers that always make you think,” she said.
“I’ve done quite a lot of working on wards, I’ve worked in a trauma centre, I thought I would be able to do it when I put my name down, but it proved to me the resilience we all have. You do think about it a lot, but it helps to think about it in the most positive way possible, like you are helping a lot of people, you’re putting a lot of families minds at ease to know how well their loved ones were treated in their last moments before they are buried or cremated.”
Catherine discovered how rewarding the work is but is returning to the paediatric department where she has taken on a managerial role. “It was hard but it was rewarding knowing we were giving those families support,” she said. “Before I went down to the mortuaries I thought they were like they are on TV programmes, not an inviting environment. But the morgue down here in Northwick Park is so clean, so tidy, all the deceased have their own part in the room. Ealing hospital morgue is top notch, you couldn’t ask for anything better for your loved one.”
Celine has decided to stay on. “It’s nice to see that things are getting back to normal now, that numbers are coming down and families can come and see their loved ones.
“They are not sure if there will be a second wave or how big that will be so they asked if any of us wanted to remain in the mortuary. I’ve learnt a lot of new skills and it would be a shame to put them to waste.”
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