The night before ... (by Miranda Steeples)

Who remembers the lazy days of the school summer holiday? Or summer break from University during dental hygiene and therapy training? Actually, my summer break at University was only three weeks long due to taking the diploma route, but I digress… That break felt well-earned, the first few weeks being a novelty but then towards the end boredom, and a desire to get back to routines and seeing friends again. Excitement tinged with nerves, perhaps moving to a new class with different people, new bag and shoes, hair washed and you were ready to go.

Not much has changed has it? I feel the same. Except this is not school or University, this is adult life, lived in the time of Covid-19. Not a planned stop to work, more an uncertain spluttering to a halt. A “should we, shouldn’t we?” kind of feeling. Remember the days prior to lockdown? “My boss wants me to stay in work, I don’t feel safe!” Some were even quite calm, or naïve, imagining that this virus might not reach our shores.

But it did and dental practices closed with no idea when they might re-open. Patients cancelled, PPE was given away and dental teams left wondering what they were supposed to do. Some were redeployed into hospitals, or finally into the urgent care centres, others helped with triage at their own practices, while others were left with a kind of emptiness; what do I do now if I can’t work as a dental hygienist or therapist? Some found other employment or volunteered to help where they could. Others, like me, had a master’s to complete, so made use of the extra time that was available!

The first few weeks were a novelty, but this gave way to periods of anxiety because we simply didn’t know if we and our families were safe, if it would be safe to go back to work, what was happening in our country and around the world. For me, the rollercoaster (or the Corona-coaster) has been a constant feature; some days feeling quite relaxed and ‘go with the flow’, other days gripped with worry about how and would I ever get back to work again and what would I do if I couldn’t?

Fortunately, being a BSDHT member provided a constant support system; not only CPD to help constructively fill some time, but also pastoral care, a feeling of belonging to a big empathetic family, because they were all going through it too. Regular email and social media updates have kept us informed and been a valuable source of reassurance. Luckily for me living by the sea has meant that time away from work has been quite pleasant, a chance to recharge my batteries and get around to doing those jobs I’ve never had time for before.

Then the SOPs appeared in a flurry after finding out via the BBC that we could go back to work and the holiday bubble burst just as abruptly as it was formed.

For me, it was a virtual meeting on Thursday 4th June, when one of my Principals said how I had a full day of patients booked in on Monday 8th so did I fancy coming in to work? I laughed; thought they were joking. They were not. I wasn’t ready for that; I still had jobs I hadn’t done yet…

The compromise was set for Friday 12 June and plans were made to return to work. I had been in to the practice, my surgery strangely stark and bare, had a walk round, taken the patient journey as well as being shown what I would need to remember to do. Then selecting patients who might want to come in for an appointment; me choosing those who I thought needed to attend, who I thought were safe to attend, then reception calling them to see if they even wanted to attend. Me calling them to ‘Covid triage’ them ready for the big day.

So, there I was, the night before the first day back to work feeling like the start of the new Autumn term. Work clothes and work bag were both ready, but was I? I felt apprehensive, not so much about Covid, although maybe I should be, but about remembering all the new things that we needed to do to keep the patients and ourselves safe. I’d not been in a surgery or held a scaler for 12 weeks now, the longest break I’d ever had, but my scalers were newly sharpened and sterilised ready for use. I knew the protocols were in place, the Principal and team had a few days before to get used to it so I knew they would support and guide me.

On arrival I gelled my hands, took and recorded my temperature. I then located my box and went to the donning room to get ready. Feeling just a little bit sick I put all my things into my box and placed it in the storage area with everybody else’s boxes. Heading up to my surgery I saw the lead nurse who wished me well for the day and reassured me that she had felt nervous too. The Principal then assuring me that I didn’t have “too much to think about or do differently, not really.” Really?

That turned out to be correct; my nurse was calm and assured in collecting the patients from the front door and taking their temperature. Reminding them to gel their hands and putting their belongings safely in the patient box. We asked patients to rinse with hydrogen peroxide, minimal evidence I know, but they were happy to do so and the time passed quickly while I double checked their Covid risk assessment with them. Doing the other usual appointment checks, hand scaling, reinforcing appropriate oral hygiene instruction, polishing to finish followed all the while with the wide bore suction. In many respects, much the same as before, trusting in the screening process and the cross-infection procedures.

The patients I saw were delighted to be able to come back for treatment and it looks like my time on the Corona-coaster may be coming to an end. This ‘new normal’ may include some measures that are only short-term, but I hope that some of the things I have learned or started to do in this fallow time, and protocols that are being implemented in the work place, may become more long-term fixtures. I trust that it will all be okay, that sometimes it might not be okay, and that is okay too.

And I will still have a to-do list of jobs that I never get around to finishing…


Miranda Steeples

18 June 2020




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