Kissing it Better
Simply making a difference
I shall never forget the day I walked into Mum’s bay on the ward and saw her, for the first time, sitting up in a chair. Unable to speak or move, she had hovered between life and death for several weeks following a devastating brain haemorrhage. Sitting up in a chair, supported by pillows, this was clearly progress.
But it wasn’t just the change in position that was making a difference. It was far more than that. For a moment, I stared at her, dozing in the corner of the bay. Then I asked the nurse, who had just come into the bay, if she had looked after her. She nodded.
“Thank you,” I felt so emotional. “Sitting there is my mum. I love her so much, all the time. But today, I am seeing Mum as she was before the accident. You’ve done her hair, her make-up. And she’s wearing her favourite nightie and beautiful shawl. That’s my mum as I never thought I’d see her again.”
That nurse had ‘gone the extra mile’ for my mum and, in doing so had made my day. Although Mum was still desperately frail, I knew it would have made her day too. Mum had always had huge pride in her appearance and being exposed to everyone with unkempt hair and no make-up, I know, would have been an added nightmare to her already terrible situation. Gently, I touched Mum’s hand. She woke up.
“You look amazing”, I said, simply. She smiled.
As other visitors arrived, they all exclaimed in delight when they saw her. And, in her own way, she responded to their compliments. It was a very special afternoon.
Across the country, through Kissing it Better, beauty therapy students and hairdressing students now complete parts of their college courses on older people’s wards. Over the past three weeks, a dozen hairdressing students and their tutor have come twice a week to Walsall Manor hospital, something they do at regular intervals throughout the year. On Monday, at the same hospital, I shall be inducting 35 beauty therapy students who will start regular thrice weekly visits the following day – the fourth group to come from that course this year.
Across the country, that pattern is being repeated in other Trusts where we work. The impact the young students have is enormous, not just because of the specific treatments they offer, but because their bright smiles, their care, compassion, sense of fun, and great style, lifts the energy of the ward, and everyone benefits.
Even those who don’t want a treatment tell us that they love to watch it all happen. The Matron often drops in for a quick hand massage, her presence indicating to the staff that’s it not only fine to join in, it’s important too.
In Warwick hospital, we’ve gone one step further. Kissing it Better now runs a Hair and Beauty Salon in partnership with Warwickshire College and South Warwickshire Foundation Trust. Patients can still be treated by the bedside, but for those who are mobile, there is now the chance to enjoy a treatment away from the clinical atmosphere of the ward. Visitors are welcome too as we understand the stress they feel when their loved ones are ill.
Wherever we work, students with a variety of skills freely share their talents to make a difference to patients, visitors and staff. Music students, who either sing favourite tunes or play classic songs on a wide range of instruments, thrill patients with their spontaneous performances. Drama students recite familiar poetry. We love the circus skills, the magical young clown, the juggling, the dancing etc.
And the chatter afterwards is wonderful too. Long after the students leave, the legacy of the visit lives on. We know that when visitors arrive that evening, the conversation, for many patients, will start with:
“You wouldn’t believe what happened this afternoon…’
And for those with dementia, who may not remember, the event will have left them with be a sense of wellbeing, a feeling that something good happened that made them feel valued.
Some, who have never seen us in action, ask if patients find it all ‘too much’. Our reply is that we are very mindful of that. Many older people’s wards are silent places. Too many rules about what you can’t put on the walls or by the bed, can make them look very clinical and cold. So many patients, especially those who have had a stroke or have dementia, are also very depressed. Often when we arrive, nearly everyone appears to be asleep. If we are offering hairstyling or a song, we will ask if we can gently wake those who are simply dozing. I hated my mother to miss something wonderful. She had all day to sleep. One consultant went further when he said:
“You energise our patients so that they will sleep better during the long, dark nights.”
And, for me, that makes complete sense. None of us like to be awake in the middle of the night. Worries (and patients have those in shedloads) are always so much worse when it’s dark, especially if you are not in your own home and there is no one to share them. That’s why most of us are keen to try and stay awake during the first day when we travel abroad for a holiday and have to adapt to the time difference. And, as mothers, most of us did not encourage our toddlers to sleep for too long during the day for fear they kept us awake at night.
Although we are a charity and, as such, spend much time fundraising for our projects, we still need support from Trusts to continue our work. These are very tough times for the NHS and, just as a family facing hardship must prioritise keeping the roof over their family’s head, feeding themselves and keeping themselves warm, hospital Trusts are having to pare back the things they see as ‘nice to have extras’, so that they can pay their bills.
But the family that never has time for a trip to the swings, the cinema, the park or a party, is not giving their children vital experiences. Life becomes mundane and, in extreme cases, is simply a tense existence as they struggle to get through their day. And that is very sad and can be very damaging.
There is plenty of evidence that happiness improves our health. We see it in hospitals and care homes every day. It may be a patient who is sitting quietly in their bed or chair, reluctant to eat or drink, or to do the exercises prescribed by the physiotherapist. But, a familiar song encourages them to smile and join in, often tapping their feet and hands in time to the rhythm. Or, after a manicure, patients love the compliments and we see them moving their hands to admire their nails in a way they didn’t do before.
“The average length of stay has been reduced considerably since Kissing it Better started last summer.”
Jill Holmes, Clinical Unit Manager, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust
When we bring dogs onto the ward, always checking that no one is allergic or frightened of them, we see patients make a special effort to lean forward to stroke them or use fine movement to guide a treat to the dog’s mouth. We also hear them talk effortlessly to an animal when they may stutter with their relatives because they know the dog is not judging them.
There is much discussion about how to care for the many people who are now living into their nineties and beyond. Part of the answer, we believe, is to harness the energy of the most dynamic people in the community and invite them to use their special skills to make a difference to others.
When we invite young people from colleges and schools to share their talents, we also encourage them to chat afterwards. The intergenerational value is enormous as young and old learn from each other.
Older people, in the main, do not want to talk endlessly about their advancing years, they want to recall their youth, in many cases far more mischievous than their younger counterparts. And when that happens, the magic begins.
I shall never forget an eighty-five-year-old lady, who had dementia, giggling in delight as she told a group of sixth formers that, during the war, underground stations in London were used as air raid shelters.
“What was it like down there?” one of them asked.
Leaning forward, the lady whispered: “It was dark, dirty, and sometimes noisy.”
‘Noisy? Could you hear the bombs?” the young girl wondered.
The lady looked surprised. “No. Not the bombs. The sex.” With a smile, she added: “It was pitch dark and if your boyfriend only had 48 hours leave, it seemed a shame to waste any time.”
With a wry smile, hastily I moved the conversation on. But the girls’ faces were a picture! They loved it. Trained by us always to behave appropriately, and despite an understanding that older people will sometimes say the unsayable, this wasn’t an afternoon those students were going to forget in a hurry.
Director & Co-founder, Kissing it Better