Naas Hospital speech and language therapist's life on the Covid-19 frontline

Therapy: Some patients attending with Covid-19 need help with feeding, especially after ventilation

Naas Hospital speech and language therapist's life on the Covid-19 frontline

Alice Whyte wearing PPE

Frontline worker Alice Whyte is a Senior Speech and Language Therapist at Naas General Hospital. Here is a day in her working life during the Covid-19 pandemic as told in her own words:

My name is Alice and I am a Senior Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) in Naas General Hospital. I work with patients who have difficulties with their communication or swallow and am a member of the Stroke team. I am living in Clane.

Unfortunately due to Covid-19 restrictions, I have not been home to Longford recently. Hopefully with all the great work everyone is doing we will all be able to visit our families soon!

After I wake up and get ready, I drive to work for 8.30am. It has been great to see a huge Garda presence on the drive to work, ensuring that we are all doing our bit to flatten the curve. We have healthcare worker stickers for our cars and letters explaining that we are travelling for work. These are just some small changes in our day-to-day life.

On arrival at work, I have a daily check for Covid-19 symptoms and of my temperature. Within the SLT department, we do a morning huddle at 9am (ensuring social distancing!) where we discuss patients that need to be seen and any updates relating to Covid-19 in the hospital. We also use these huddles to check in on each other!

I spend some time during the morning ringing patients’ families with updates on their loved ones’ communication and swallow, completing reports for Nursing Homes and GPs and sending on referrals to Community SLTs for patients who need SLT input after discharge.

Alice Whyte

I then link with my colleagues in Radiology to organise a videofluoroscopy (x-ray of patients’ swallowing) for a patient with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This patient has been having frequent chest infections so we want to investigate if food and drinks are going down the wrong way, into their lungs.

After coffee break, I head up to ICU to see patients who are recovering from severe Covid-19. I check their swallow and communication as they have not spoken, eaten or drank anything from when they were put on a ventilator. It is very rewarding to see these patients improving and getting back to these things that we all take for granted!

As for all healthcare workers, PPE is now an essential part of our SLT uniform. As SLTs we are very aware of how PPE can impact on our interactions with patients who can find it difficult to hear us with the masks and face shields and they are unable to read our lips or see our facial expressions.

We have taken a number of small steps to support our patients such as wearing large stickers with ‘Hello my name is.. Alice’ and our photos on them and using white boards to help with communication. Something so simple as a sticker with your photo on it can have a positive impact for our patients; they get to see the faces of the people caring for them! With our colleagues in Social Work, we are currently working on providing these stickers to all staff in the hospital.

At the patients’ lunch time at 12.30, myself and my SLT, Occupational Therapy, Physio and Dietitian colleagues go to the wards to help some patients with Covid-19 needing assistance. Some patients find it difficult to manage their meals independently, for example if they have physical difficulties and find it hard to manage cutlery or to feed themselves.

Together with nurses, catering and health care assistants, we promote positive mealtime experiences and support patients to enjoy a nutritious meal.

One of our SLTs is moving jobs next week so we mark her new job at lunch with some cake and presents. We enjoy a quick walk outside to get some fresh air!

After lunch, I head back up to the wards. Unfortunately, the SLT role in palliative care is prevalent now more than ever. As part of this role, I assess a patient who has advanced dementia and is coming to the end of their life. I offer advice and recommendations about eating and drinking for comfort. I link closely with the doctors and nurses looking after the patient. While this is a challenging part of the job, it is fulfilling to see a patient enjoy a simple cup of tea, in their final days.

A very different but also rewarding part of my day is my work in the Stroke Unit. I provide therapy to a patient who has significant language difficulties post stroke and is finding it difficult to say his children and grandchildrens’ names. Using the iPad, we work through different tasks. I really enjoy working with these patients who often make remarkable recoveries with therapy.

At 4pm, I return to the SLT office to research updates regarding SLT work with Covid-19. Covid-19 is new to all of us so we are constantly trying to learn more and more about it. The Irish Association of SLT and Twitter have been useful to find webinars and resources to keep us up-to-date with information from around the world!

I finish up and head home around 4.30pm. Now more than ever, it is important to switch off after work. I enjoy getting out for a run or doing some baking!

During these times, I am even more grateful for chats with family and friends on FaceTime and am looking forward to being reunited with them soon.

These are challenging times for us all and I think we have all shown incredible adaptability and strength. It has been truly heart warming to see all the local support - a lovely lady donated homemade brownies to us and many people have sent in food and postcards!

Just remember, this too shall pass.