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Hospice Doctor with the Human Touch

A doctor who has experienced the devastation of Covid at first hand hopes the pandemic will bring the world closer.

Dr Habiba Hajallie, known as Dr Bee patients and colleagues at the ellenor hospice in Gravesend, said: “I hope the world will become a kinder place now and that people will be kinder to each other. All humans are susceptible to Covid. It doesn’t matter about race, gender, sexuality, religion, or wealth. Covid is blind to all of this, and it would be a better world if we all became blind to it too.”

Dr Bee, one of five doctors at the hospice, wants everyone to know that doctors are just ordinary people with a job to do.

She said: “We also have families and lives outside of our work, so we do feel for our patients, and we often cry with them. People sometimes have the view that doctors are unapproachable, this is not the case - I’m laid back and I have an open heart. I don’t think people always realise we are just humans, and this is our job.”

Dr Bee has certainly experienced the trauma of Covid, watched patients die and consoled grief-stricken family members. During the thick of the pandemic last year, she was working at an acute hospital trust on a Covid ward. Every night shattered after a long shift, she returned alone to an empty hotel room and went for weeks without seeing her partner Adam and three-year-old daughter Isabella.

Life at ellenor

With a background in palliative and elderly care and having worked as a registrar, Dr Bee came to ellenor in 2018 for a year. She then spent a year at the hospital before returning to the hospice in Gravesend this June.

She said: “Things have changed at the hospice since I worked here in 2018. To protect patient and staff visiting is restricted to four named people able to visit each patient, but only two at a time – whereas in the past ellenor was very much an open house. Now we can only relax those restrictions when someone is at the end of their life.

“It’s so difficult putting restrictions on family members whose loved ones are dying."


"We must protect other patients, their families, and the staff. There are a lot of vulnerable people in a hospice environment."


“Sadly, Covid death rates in the UK are rising, and we have a variety of new and unknown variants. I think the hospice restrictions will have to stay in place at least until after the winter period.”

Thankfully Dr Bee’s experience in an acute hospital setting has prepared her for the road ahead.

She said: “My partner was working from home being supported by my mum who had moved in to help care for our daughter. We made the decision that I needed to stay in a hotel as we didn’t know how bad things were and I couldn’t risk Isabella or Adam becoming unwell. I was out of the house for 38 weeks and just used to meet with my daughter sometimes in the garden and talk to her.

“At work, we were dealing with very sick Covid patients, and the PPE just wasn’t there in the early days. I had to decide: Do I not work, or do I go to work and hope I will be OK? I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing. For me it has always been important to raise your child to be a good person and give something to the community. I want her to be proud of me and I hope that when she is older, she will understand why mummy was away.”

Dr Bee was so moved by her experiences during the height of the Pandemic that she wrote a profound poem called ‘Who will I call today?’. It describes the daily anguish she faced, coping with dying patients and having to call their heart-broken families.


“It makes me so sad to know that because of COVID-19 a lot of people lost their lives too soon.”


When she first embarked on a medical career, Dr Bee could never have guessed that such a cruel disease would sweep the world. After finishing her education, she had toyed with the idea of becoming a chef, then a nurse, but was persuaded she had the character and dedication she needed to become a doctor. Years of intense training were to follow, with Dr Bee choosing to work with the elderly quite early in her career.

She said: “I knew I wouldn’t be able to work with children as I found it too emotional, and have always quite liked to challenge myself. Kids tend to have one condition. But older people tend to have multiple conditions, it’s dynamic medicine. I have always been medical rather than surgical. You need to take a holistic approach and I am still constantly learning.”

Providing a Peace

Although Dr Bee knows that she cannot prevent death when she is working in palliative care, she is confident she can give her patients a peaceful end of life.

She stressed how important it is to liaise with all the hospice staff, especially the Wellbeing Team.

She said: “We can see what families are going through and what support they need. It is important to have open and frank discussions every step of the way. That leads to a more dignified death.

“Our vision is to integrate with all the teams and provide a more dynamic service, not just for the in- patients but for the day patients too. Here at ellenor our medical team has an open-door policy and are approachable so that both the patients who are ill and their families feel supported and able to voice their worries, feel listened to and concerns are addressed.”

Be Aware of Your Mental Health

Dr Bee knows herself the stresses and heartache of seeing death close-up and on a daily basis. She remembers the times she would come back to her hotel from the Covid ward last year unable to do anything other than watch a sci-fi movie – nothing romantic or emotional. Her emotions had run dry. She was able to talk through some of the trauma with a counsellor from the mental health charity Mind, which had offered its services to NHS staff.

She said: “Mental health is at the forefront of so many campaigns and advertisements now. For instance, bereavement is a big mental health trigger – it can lead to post traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety.

“Sometimes when patients are admitted to ellenor, the whole family is in crisis. Often someone has had to stop being a husband or wife and become a carer. They are not in the familiar loving family role they were once in. They are totally broken, and you can see the relief on their faces when their loved one is admitted to the hospice."


“This is where ellenor makes a real difference to patients and their families, and I’m proud to be part of that.”


 

"Who Will I Call Today?

by Dr Habiba Hajallie
Senior Specialty Doctor
ellenor hospice