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Tina Dodd Banner

Degree For Children’s Hospice Nurse Battling Long Covid

Working for a hospice children’s team is demanding, Tina is so committed to her job as Children’s Clinical Nurse Specialist that she has completed a degree course while working full time. After battling Long Covid, she couldn’t wait to get back to what she loves doing best – caring for children with life-limiting illnesses and supporting their families.

Tina, who has been with the hospice charity for five years, graduated this summer with a degree in palliative care. Her colleagues and her friends and family were so proud of her achievement, but Tina prefers just to get on with the job in hand.

She said: “I’m not one for the limelight. I started the course a couple of years ago and originally wanted to do a degree with honours but then I got severe Covid. I finished the coursework in 2020 but then it had to go to the board for them to decide if I could have my degree.”

Tina was very lucky to have the support of ellenor, who paid for half of her tuition fees and half the mileage, and of husband Sacha, who drove with her from their home in Rochester to Wolverhampton once a week for lectures – a trip of three or four hours each way.

She said: “We would set off the night before and stay in a hotel so I would be fresh for the following day at university.”

Tina studied three modules: bereavement support, communication and symptom management. She particularly enjoyed learning more about how to communicate with patients and families when providing palliative and end of life care.

She said: “You adopt a different mindset; you just have to be there to support people. Just let them talk and say how they feel and don’t worry about the quiet gaps.”

After qualifying as a children’s nurse 12 years ago, Tina has completed a few other courses, but admitted her latest degree was a real challenge. Her two children, Rebecca, 27, and Sophie, 25, were so proud of their mum, sending her encouraging messages on the day of her graduation.

She will be celebrating her 50th birthday this year with a cruise – but then it will be back to some more serious studying for a post graduate certificate in Bristol from January 2023. She will be studying at Masters level for two modules; clinical assessment of a child and palliative care in children.

The course will be an extra challenge as Tina still battles the long-term effects of Covid, which she contracted right at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and led to nine months off work.

She said: “It was before testing and before the injections. Thinking about it now, it’s quite scary. I’m a nurse and I know you should take 16-18 breaths in and out in one minute, and I was doing 60. I fractured ribs from coughing. I had massive breathing and lung problems which ended up with me being in and out of hospital and suffering acute fatigue. I had headaches and temperatures on a daily basis and inflammation in my joints, particularly feet and hips. I’m such a go getter, so it was a real struggle – I couldn’t even read. I still sleep between nine and ten hours a night even now.

“I’m a bit of a fighter and a very determined person who doesn’t like to be told ‘no’. ellenor has been amazing – they couldn’t have done anything better. They always asked how I was and were happy to adjust my hours when I first came back to work. I was also able to access their physiotherapy and aromatherapy.

“For two years I couldn’t stand up in the shower and I had terrible brain fog. In April this year I couldn’t even walk for more than about five minutes, but my breathing has got a lot better now.

“Things felt so much better once I was able to get back to work. I get great job satisfaction and I’m always recognised for what I’m doing. We are also able to give our patients time, which is wonderful. I absolutely love my job and the things I have learned through doing the degree have really helped me look after the children supported by ellenor and their families.”

Tina’s job is to visit children with life limiting illnesses in their own homes in Dartford, Gravesend and Swanley. She carries out oncology care, including blood tests, infusions and injections. For her palliative care patients, she liaises closely with doctors and hospitals. ellenor’s nurses are there to help children stay at home with their families and limit hospital visits. They can provide nursing support at home including end of life care. They also provide respite care to families in Bexley.

She said: “Some of these families are constantly in and out of hospital and have so many different consultants. Our job is to try and minimise the impact on family life.”

The children’s team also offer families up to 18 months of bereavement care.

Tina said: “Bereavement after the death of a child is completely different to other types of bereavement. Sometimes one parent might want to talk about things they don’t feel able to talk about with the other parent, for instance.”

Tina admits that working with children who are so seriously ill can be an emotional roller coaster.

She said: “I’m a very positive person and I do have a lot of support from ellenor and from my family, but I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t affect me. It’s important to keep work separate from your home life.”

The charity sees staff wellbeing as paramount, offering clinical supervision as well as access to services such as mindfulness sessions. To ellenor, the mental health of patients, their families, and staff is as important as clinical care and hospice beds.