Interview with the winner of Queen Silvia Nursing Award Poland 2017 (Part 1)
In the first of our four-part interview series featuring our new scholars, we have Aldona Reczek-Chachulska, a second-year nursing student from Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin, Poland and the winner of Queen Silvia Nursing Award Poland 2017.
After graduating from Karkonosze College with a degree in Polish Philology, Aldona worked in the United Kingdom (UK) for a year as a senior care assistant, taking care of people living with dementia. Since then, she has returned to Poland and is currently undertaking her nursing studies at Pomeranian Medical University.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why did you decide to become a nurse?
Working as a carer for the elderly, I realised that this is IT and that I want to develop in this direction. Nursing was, therefore, an obvious choice and a natural development path. The experience that I gained while working with the elderly has taught me a lot and confirmed my belief that this is what I want to do in life.
Why did you apply for Queen Silvia Nursing Award?
I found out about the scholarship in 2016 when Dr Anna Cybulska, the councillor of our student research group, informed us about it. She encouraged us to apply for the scholarship, but I decided not to. However, I must admit that it was at that time when I came up with this winning idea. Unfortunately, I had too much on my plate, and the information about the scholarship just slipped my mind.
A year later, when I was reading about the first QSNA Poland winner’s impression of the scholarship, I decided to apply for it. I feel closely connected with the purpose of the scholarship as I see myself working with the elderly, especially the ones with dementia.
I consider this scholarship as a great opportunity to improve the quality of caregiving, draw attention to dementia, and encourage future nurses to actively take part in uprating the care of those living with dementia. We, as future nurses, will be the closest to dementia and all the caring difficulties associated with this disease. This responsibility also means that we might have the biggest impact on the quality of lives of these people. That is why this scholarship is a great initiative that gives every nursing student a chance to share their ideas in the discussion.
How did you come up with your winning idea?
I came up with the idea some time ago when I was working as a senior care assistant in the UK. I was taking care of patients with dementia, and the quality of their lives had me thinking about what kind of care we could offer them.
One patient with dementia particularly stuck in my mind. It was difficult for the caretakers and nurses to connect with her, and all she did the entire day was sitting by the window. We tried our best to make her, at least, smile a bit. Then, one day after months of fruitless attempts to make contact with her, her relative brought a CD with the music that reminded her of her youthful days. And, that was it! The music that she still remembers and loves finally made her smile! Having listened to it for a while, she started beaming. That was the moment when we realised how we could connect with her. It might seem trivial as it was just a smile, but when we are talking about a person with dementia, a smile means the world to us.
I remembered thinking that it is a real shame that we know so little about the people we care for. If we were to know them better, we would be able to get to them easier. In cases of late-stage dementia, the patients cannot inform us about their past themselves and relatives might not visit them that often, unfortunately. That is why I thought it would be useful to have something that could tell us things about our patients when they cannot speak for themselves anymore.
That was how the idea of “Niezapominajka/Forget-me-not-box” emerged. My wish is that every patient of a nursing home living with dementia would have their own “Niezapominajka” box containing items – music, photos, favourite film or book, memorabilia or things connected to a former job or hobby – from their younger days. We tend to surround ourselves with meaningful things, whereas nursing homes’ patients — detached from their households — are often missing items that could remind them of who they are, what makes them calm, what their interests are and what they had lived through. When caring for people with dementia, we should remember that there is a life story filled with emotions and reminiscences behind every one of them. “Niezapominajka” should be a medium to get to the patient, a way to soothe them and an aid to get to know them better. It is also supposed to serve as a symbol, especially for visitors and medical personnel, reminding them that they are dealing with a person who might not remember what he or she likes and that they could help the person to recall it, as the case of my patient demonstrated it.
I would like “Niezapominajka” to go together with reliable information gathered from the patients’ close ones concerning preferences and the past. I wish we would always remember that patients, though detached from reality by their illness, will invite us into their worlds if only we realise who they truly are. Sometimes it will simply take a smile, sometimes a longer conversation and sometimes an act of compassion. However, it is always worth trying, and that is what “Niezapominajka” is all about!
The biggest problem for the elderly that I observed is dementia and the limitations associated with it. However, I try not to belittle the restrictions related to mobility, diseases of old age or bad economic situations. I believe that the problem of dementia cannot be underestimated, as it will become more prevalent. Caring for dementia patients is not an easy task, but it gives me a lot of satisfaction and, with the right attitude, we can do a lot to help people we care about. Another big problem for older people is loneliness and being pushed on the so-called sidetrack. The seniors are wonderful people from whom we can learn a lot, and it is worth to use their experiences, listen to them and to be with them.
Caring for the elderly requires great patience and even greater empathy and respect for seniors. You need to be able to listen and watch closely and be sensitive to their needs, as they might not be able to express themselves anymore – especially if we are talking about older patients with dementia. A sense of humour will not hurt too!
What are your next steps as the winner of Queen Silvia Nursing Award Poland 2017?
Participating in the scholarship has been a great experience. Being a winner, I received a great opportunity to develop in the nursing field that is my passion. Just a few days after the final of the competition, I received an invitation from Springer Pflege, one of the project partners of Queen Silvia Nursing Award, to a conference in the field of nursing, which will take place in Berlin. The opportunity to exchange experiences with fellow QSNA winners from different countries and people who have been working with the elderly for years is very inspiring. I would like to deepen my knowledge related to the care of seniors and in particular those with dementia
I also hope that, through the internship, which was part of the award, I would be able to gain new experiences from working in various centres in Poland and abroad as well as from participating in conferences and training. The opportunity to learn about the different models of care motivates me to implement novel solutions when working with seniors. I believe that I will be able to realise my winning idea and provide dementia patients with their own “Forget-me-not box”.