DOWN TIME Karolina Kaluza take time out from her busy job at the Pilgrim’s Rest Nursing Home by relaxing at the Quay in Westport. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Name: Karolina Kaluza
Occupation: Senior Carer in the Pilgrim’s Rest Nursing Home
From: Westport and Raszkow, Poland
IT doesn’t matter whether I am working or have a day off I will jump out of bed at 6am most days. A sleep-in for me means getting up at 7am. I don’t eat first thing in the morning but start with my first coffee and a cigarette – I know it is not a great habit!
I work as a Senior Carer at the Pilgrim’s Rest Nursing Home here in Westport and my shift starts at 8am. The usual routine is four days each week which means if there is school, my husband Karel brings our daughter to school. Zoe is nine and is in third class in Scoil Phádraig.
Since school closed because of coronavirus, she has really been missing her friends and her teacher. We’ve been doing some home-schooling – her favourite subject is Maths at the moment – but with the sunny weather it has been harder for her to concentrate.
My older sister, Beata is a Senior Nurse at the nursing home and she often collects me if we are on the same shift because I don’t drive. We both started working at the Pilgrim’s Rest in 2006, so I never feel lonely for family!
When the virus struck, we really worked so well as a team right from the beginning. Pauline Mulroy – she owns the Pilgrim’s Rest with her husband, Noel Marley – came out of retirement and she was just brilliant and we had so many laughs. We were so lucky from the outset with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and the local support, particularly Portwest, was invaluable.
The nursing home is free of the virus now after a lot of repeat testing and we are slowing and carefully coming back to normal but still following all the social-distancing and hygiene regulations of course.
It was a really tough time and there were some staff shortages on occasions. Our priority was always our residents and with everything locked up and no visitors there was a different routine. Of course, wearing PPE was confusing for those with dementia and you’d have to explain every few minutes why you were wearing it without alarming them. We had to be kind, calming and keep joking – like we always do, but with an extra sensitivity.
I usually have a break around 11am and might have porridge and some toast and since we have a great coffee machine – more coffee!
After visitor restrictions were imposed, we found new ways to keep in touch with families and loved-ones through Whatsapp video calls and Facetime. It really meant so much for both residents and their families to be able to see each other.
Obviously, all the activities stopped too – the live music, bingo, cards, games, quizzes – and the residents were in their rooms. The hairdressers and therapist couldn’t visit either.
For me I always tried to be positive and stay beyond the sadness of the world. Our residents are vulnerable and need us 24/7 to be there for them. As carers and nurses we grow to love these people. Many of them are such characters with great stories to tell.
Karel, my husband, is really helpful around the house except I do the cooking. I’m very domesticated so when I’m not working I like cleaning and washing and doing all sorts of housework.
We like to eat salads and pasta and as a family are trying to become more vegetarian but we still have steak occasionally. Of course, we also have traditional Polish food sometimes, like Golabki, they are stuffed cabbage rolls.
We also like walking and cycling together and before the lockdown a favourite place for walks was Tourmakeady. But since we got a new family member recently, Cody, he’s a white Boxer and five months old, our walking regime is dictated by him. Of course, he is Zoe’s dog.
I’m from a small town called Raszkow, it is near the city of Ostrów Wielkopolski and between Poznan and Wroclew in the south west of Poland. I studied Psychology for a while and decided to come to Ireland for one year as my sister was here but I never went back. Karel, who was my boyfriend at the time, then followed me here. When I get home from work in the evenings I am still full of energy. I stay up chatting to Karel about our day, maybe watching a movie until 1am or 2am and as I said will still be jumping out of bed again at 6am.
From my perspective, the Irish Government, the HSE, and all the agencies really treated our nursing home so well from the beginning. In comparison to what my friends tell me about how it was in Poland, there is no comparison, they did not get the support. I just feel proud to be part of the service here in Ireland during this pandemic.
In conversation with Áine Ryan
If money was no object, what would you do all day?
I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia but haven’t been to Sri Lanka. It’s not about lying on the beach, it is to experience the culture, the people
What’s the first thing you’ll do when the Covid-19 shutdown ends?
I will go to a restaurant with family and friends and we will fly to Poland to see everyone
Favourite place in the world?
An idyllic island called Koh Chang in Thailand
What makes you angry?
Selfish people, particularly racists
Which celebrity guests would you invite to your Zoom dinner party?
It would have to be Richard Gere and George Clooney
What makes you nervous?
The future and the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic
Name three things in your fridge?
Milk, salad and Mozarella cheese
Who is the most famous person you have ever met?
I’ve met a lot of Polish actors including Agata Kulesza
Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I really love relaxing music, Enigma is a favourite
What is your most prized possession?
My mother’s wedding ring, I wear it all the time. She passed away in 2005
Sum up your coronavirus experience from a personal perspective?
I get to spend more time with my family and reflect on what is more important in life.