Gladys Nkhola has been a dual qualified registered general nurse and registered mental nurse for 45 years. Originally from South Africa, she moved to the UK in 2002 and has worked as a dementia care nurse for the UK health and social care charity Making Space since 2004.
Her heritage and age place Gladys at increased risk of contracting Covid-19, but rather than step down from her nursing duties, when the pandemic placed increasing strain on resources Gladys quickly made the decision to take on extra shifts at Monet Lodge in Manchester.
“I should have been shielding according to my age,” she says. “But I don’t have any underlying health conditions and I was healthy. They needed someone to do night shifts, and I wanted to do it.”
The extra workload meant that Gladys was frequently working up to 60 hours a week, caring for patients with dementia and often with challenging behaviour. It’s a demanding role at the best of times, but Gladys took it all in her stride. Her only concession to the pandemic was to agree to take taxis to and from work instead of her usual bus route.
According to Gladys’s manager at Making Space, clinical lead Joby Raju, it came as no surprise to see her rise to the challenges placed by the pandemic.
“She has been utterly selfless throughout,” he says. “Gladys has dedicated her life as a nurse to the care of others. At 75, she continues to work tirelessly and compassionately, night after night, to ensure that the patients in her care receive the absolute best care that they deserve.
“She has an inherent sense of humanity, compassion, love and understanding. Her clinical knowledge is vast and she is a great motivator and leader. Working on shift with Gladys, staff always learn something new.”
Gladys decided to become a nurse at the age of 23, when she tragically watched her mother pass away from a heart attack at the age of just 48. Now a mother of four herself, Gladys’s adult children live in South Africa and America and have shared some upsetting stories about the impact of Covid.
“The situation is very bad in South Africa,” says Gladys. “I’ve lost friends who I trained as a nurse with, so it’s been very distressing.”
Yet despite her personal losses, Gladys has continued to put her patients first. “They couldn’t see their relatives or friends, and that was very hard to watch,” she says. “For people with advanced dementia, all the new measures were confusing and upsetting. It was very clear in their faces how much they missed their loved ones.”
Gladys is well known among colleagues and the families of her patients for her ability to manage what can be very difficult situations with dignity and compassion. The inevitable impact of the sustained disruption caused by Covid saw her place increasing importance on enriching the lives of her patients.
“Many of the people we care for have challenging behaviour, so if one day they are less challenging that’s normally a clear indication something’s wrong,” she explains.
To help combat the enforced separation from loved ones, Gladys placed extra emphasis on therapeutic activities, training and leading staff in story work, reminiscence therapy, multisensory stimulation, massage and exercise, cognitive stimulation and validation therapy.
As well as comforting her patients, Gladys’s dedication and commitment has made her a shining role model for her colleagues and a caring and calming presence for families, particularly when they couldn’t visit in person.
“Gladys always has a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye and nothing, absolutely nothing, is too much trouble for her,” says Joby. “Her achievements at the hospital have made a lasting difference to the staff and residents and she’s a huge asset not just to those in her care but to dementia care overall.”