Within weeks of the country going into lockdown, former restaurateur Jayne Raffles was leading a catering team at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Here’s her 2020 story…
Back in March, I watched the breaking news about Covid-19 at the start of a national lockdown. With hospitality businesses closing with immediate effect, my business based entirely around catering and hospitality was suddenly not viable.
I saw an ad on my Facebook feed for catering team leaders at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and applied, not only to work but because I have had the most incredible care from the NHS, for myself and my children. I felt I could – and wanted to – give back. Having lived and worked in the USA where things are very different, I have an extra respect for our healthcare system.
My husband Nigel’s mother was taken very ill with terminal cancer, at the end of February, so it was decided he would take the time to look after her at her home in London. I didn’t see him for 14 weeks, so actually it was good to be busy.
Dealing with my father’s death
My father also died of Covid in Spain at the same time. Dealing with his death in Spain has been difficult, with the logistics of not being able to visit and sort things out like I would do normally. And dealing with the British consulate, crematorium and lawyers has been challenging and time consuming.
During my first week on the wards, I was terrified to see how ill people really were. Standing outside the Critical Care Unit and the Intensive Treatment Unit, and seeing doctors fully-clothed in Personal Protective Equipment, was sobering and very scary to say the least.
We have worked for ourselves for more than 30 years, so the other shock was the many procedures and rules. Once you understand them, they make perfect sense, both for the safety of the patients and ourselves.
I was trained by long-standing team members. Some of whom have worked at both the old and new hospital for 30 years plus. It led to interesting conversations, from being called posh to a few other things I shouldn’t mention!
Meeting real characters
One of my jobs on the ward is to take the orders for lunch and supper. I have met some real characters, who are both funny and cheeky at the same time. One that springs to mind is the 85 year old gentleman who, when I asked whether he would like cottage pie or omelette for dinner he replied, as quick-as-a-flash: ‘Can I have sex please!’. I replied very quickly. It wasn’t on the menu on Mondays.
What you do realise is how important meal times are, not only for nutrients but to relieve the boredom of being in bed all day and night.
From working on the children’s, dementia, cancer and stroke wards, you really do get to meet all sorts of people. Some are grumpy and some are truly grateful for a quick chat. One that stands out was the lovely old man who asked me to hold his hand.
Working alongside the incredible nurses is a real bonus. They are unfailingly cheerful, so hard working and with the added big dose of black humour.
Conquering my fears
For anyone who knows me, I am a fainter at the slightest medical intervention. Fainting at every one of my antenatal classes gives you some idea of how wimpy I am. So to walk into some very invasive treatments is definitely a look-up-at-the-ceiling-and-breathe-deeply moment.
As for the physical side? With 12 hour shifts and 20,000 steps a day, I have not put on any pounds. But let’s not talk about my uniform and green pork pie hat!
So would I do it again? Yes, probably. I am proud of how I have been a tiny wheel in the massive NHS cog. I am proud of mastering all the procedures, learning to stand up for myself and working for someone else again; and learning new skills at not such a young age. I have listened to so many life stories of my fellow workers. It must be something about me that people open up about their life, children and family.
So as the hospitality businesses slowly open up I guess I will find another avenue within the next few months. But one thing is for sure: I will never forget 2020.
Jayne Raffles runs the Egg Consultancy Group, egg-consultancy.co.uk