Rufina Maderas retired as a nurse in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK. She has been a nurse for the past 42 years, since 1978. Over these four decades, she has worked in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, before settling in London with her family in 2002. She specialises in gynaecology nursing and retired from St Mary’s Hospital, London (Day Surgery Unit).
After her retirement, she saw the elderly in her neighbourhood being most affected by COVID-19, due to their vulnerability and isolation. By nature, Rufina is a very proactive, friendly and helpful person. By chance, she would meet some of her former patients on the street, and she would offer to keep in touch with them, and help if needed. Even before the pandemic, some of her patients were already struggling with poor mental health and depression. Thus, she saw the need to do more during the pandemic.
She asked herself what she could do to help. Initially, Rufina started by making phone calls to her friends and the elderly. To keep in touch and combat loneliness, especially for those living alone. In the first few months of COVID-19, in the period between March and June 2020, she received many phone calls from her friends asking for help and advice. Sometimes she provided emotional support to friends who had suffered bereavement. Other times she helped to monitor friends who were having COVID-19 symptoms, and prompted them to call 999 when they needed to be admitted to the hospital for urgent care.
To combat loneliness, Rufina also started sending cards to her friends. She sent cards just to say hello, especially to those who were living alone. To let them know someone is thinking of them, in particular, to celebrate birthdays and during the Christmas season. People also started introducing their friends to her, especially the elderly and the sick. So, her network kept growing.
Zoom Calls, Specialist Talks & Fun Activities
During lockdown, Rufina started organising Zoom calls for the elderly and isolated. There were usually around 8 to 15 people dialling-in. Over Zoom, they were taught simple exercises to strengthen their muscles at home, especially finger grip exercises or leg exercises. Rufina explains the reason for introducing these exercises: “Because if they are unable to hold a glass, and it falls and breaks, they become disappointed... Having strong leg muscles is very important. So that they can maintain their mobility and independence.”
She also talks about the importance of nutrition, hydration, movement, being in nature, making time for rest and enjoyment, and avoiding over usage of mobile phones. Rufina said: “It sounds so simple, but in reality in our modern daily life, not many of us practice this well.” She would encourage them to go for daily walks in nature. If they were unable to leave the house, she gave them plants to brighten up their homes.
As a tip for her elderly friends who were struggling for things to do during lockdown, she would ask them to walk around their house, and do some tidying and dusting. This would encourage them to stay mobile and active.
On Zoom, she also arranged talks. For example, she invited a specialist nurse to give a talk and share tips for managing incontinence. This is a common issue faced by the elderly, and one that greatly affects their self-esteem. Having urology problems and incontinence leads to poor self-confidence and feeling a lack of control over their lives. That’s why she chose this topic.
“Another fun activity we did over Zoom, was to do face masks at home using egg whites. We asked them to separate the egg whites from the yolk. And together, we used the egg white as a face mask as a self-care activity. They really enjoyed it, and one person said that her skin felt soft and tightened. Some even continued doing this activity, and incorporated it into their routine.”
In-Person – Walks, Home Care, Personal Care & Sharing Meals
Once lockdown had lifted, she was able to meet them in person for walks outside their home. Even if it was just a short walk, up and down the stairs of their building. She would also ask if she could visit. She would bring her delicious home-cooked meals to share with the elderly. So, that they could easily heat food and have nutritious meals. During her home visits, she would enquire if they needed help doing household tasks, take out the rubbish. She also helped them schedule and attend follow-up medical appointments, both face-to-face and via telephone. Sometimes she would also help with basic personal care, like helping to cut their toenails.
The toll of COVID-19
“I have a few close friends who passed away due to COVID-19.” One that is close to Rufina’s heart is a nurse called Mary Jean. She is also from the Philippines, and was due to retire this year. “It is very sad because she had told me that she was looking forward to her retirement, and she was going to move back to the Philippines to be with her family and children.”
Mary Jean had been working with St Mary’s Hospital for 18 years. During the day of her funeral in April 2020, the staff lined up along the road outside the hospital. The funeral car stopped at the main entrance of St Mary’s. There were flowers, and both the chaplain priest and the doctor she had worked with gave a short eulogy. It was a very moving and sad scene.
As was the case with many other deaths during COVID-19, her husband was unable to spend her final moments with her due to the quarantine rules.
Thoughts on ageing
“This is from my personal experience. Ageing cannot be prevented. It is like a car. As you age, things break down, and we start waking up with more aches and pains. That is part of ageing.”
“But what is within our control, is how we choose to cope with it. When you are in pain, it is easy to be irritable and grumpy with the people around you. So, we must be very careful when we age. To choose to age gracefully, especially in how we treat others.”
“I have a few simple quotes that I use to inspire myself and others: ‘Ageing is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength’ and ‘Getting old is like a mountain: you get out of breath, but the view is much better especially when we know the final destination that God has prepared for us.’”
Rufina’s Dream & Motivations
“When I was young and a student, I read the book ‘Lady with a Lamp: Story of Florence Nightingale’. I imagined nursing as wearing a cap on your head, wearing a white dress. But now, it’s not like that anymore. Florence Nightingale inspired me to follow in her footsteps, to be a nurse. And it is a dream come true to be in the UK, the country where Florence Nightingale is from. I am inspired by her legacy – that nursing is an art. To have empathy towards the patient, that nursing is a vocation. It is challenging and inspiring to be a nurse. Thus, I’m so happy to fulfil my dream of being a nurse.”
“It has been a journey of searching – Who am I? What is my vocation? Nursing is a career that is very meaningful to me. Throughout my 42 years of nursing, in the different specialities that I have worked in, this has been a very meaningful journey. I have made this my life’s mission. There will be no real retirement for me.”
Advice to those entering care work or nursing
“Most importantly, understand what is caring and why you want to do it. Of course, sometimes caring is not voluntary. It is due to life’s circumstances.”
“Try to put love into the doing, and be respectful and non-judgemental to everyone, and in all circumstances.”
“Working with the sick and elderly can be challenging. Sometimes they are unhappy because they are in pain. Or because it is frustrating when they are physically unable to do the things they used to do. They don’t want to be a burden to others.”
“It is important to give them your best. As a nurse, we are all by definition heroes. Approach each day offering love and friendship to the people that we meet that day. How do we bring joy and happiness to their lives? First and foremost, it is the spirit of understanding, perseverance and courage but most importantly the love that we put into every action.”
“Also, I gained a lot of wisdom listening to their life stories. The people that I have met are a blessing to me, I am grateful to be able to share God’s unconditional love with them. God is the one who gives me the strength to love and care for them unconditionally.”