Nurse Dawn retires after 23 years at Francis House

Spending time with the families and making the children laugh.

Dawn Geddes sat by fountain at Francis House

Dawn Geddes retires after more than two decades of caring.

The coronavirus pandemic may have prevented her from saying goodbye in person to the children and families under her care at Francis House Children’s Hospice, but as Dawn Geddes retires after more than two decades as a nurse on the care team, she will be remembered for the laughter she brought to many.

From the age of eleven, Dawn had always wanted to be a nurse. In a career spanning 37 years, she joined Francis House in 1997 after working for five years on the Young Oncology Unit at The Christie hospital.

Dawn, 55, said: “I was at the stage where I was being very technical in my job. I was doing lots of blood tests, lots of chemotherapy and I wanted to get back to the basics of what I felt nursing should be – spending time with the families and children.

“When a job was advertised at Francis House it was like somebody was listening to me and gave me this ideal job.”

The hospice environment gave Dawn the time to deliver holistic care to the standard that she wanted and have fun with the children.

“That is the luxury of Francis House, you spend time with the families and really get to know them, finding out what makes them tick and what it is that they need from you.

“I gelled with the role and as well as taking care of the children’s clinical needs I got to do all the playing and making their lives happier!”

Dawn Geddes nurse

Dawn's first day as a qualified nurse in 1988 at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.

A children’s hospice may not seem the sort of place that you would associate with having fun, but that is exactly why hundreds of poorly youngsters from across Greater Manchester love coming to the hospice in Didsbury.

For almost 30 years, Francis House has welcomed thousands of parents, who after taking their first tentative steps through the doors, come to see the hospice as a place of rest, with staff they entrust with the most precious thing in their lives – their children.

“Having been at Francis House for so long, there are families that I have known since the child was a toddler to entering their teenage years.

“As they reach their end of life there is a sadness there for me, but there are also a lot of memories that I can share with the families, to remind them of the good times and not just the sad times that they are now going through.”

Children under 16 years-of-age can be referred to the hospice with a wide range of life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses. Many families come for years and describe Francis House as their ‘holiday home’.

“I always say children have needs and they have wants. The needs are the things that must happen, they need to have their medicines, something to eat and to get washed and dressed. The wants are the things that make it worthwhile doing all the other stuff.

“The kids want to go to the cinema, they want to play in the garden, and what Francis House is really good at is addressing the wants as well as the needs.”

Two years after joining Francis House, the education team at the hospice was formed and led by Dawn until 2015. Her input into the training of the care team included those now in senior management positions in the hospice.

But it is the singing, dancing, and readiness to make a fool of herself in order to make the children laugh that will perhaps be most remembered by everyone at Francis House as Dawn retires.

“I’ve always had that willingness to be daft occasionally. I like being silly with the kids, a lot of them don’t have much to laugh at so if I can bring that into the mix then I will go for it and I don’t care what I look like!”

Dawn Geddes, Senior Nurse
Child and nurse Dawn Geddes in PPE painting at Francis House.

Isabel and Dawn enjoy a painting session at Francis House.

The can-do attitude at the hospice was never more relevant than with the outbreak of COVID-19. Families were shielding their vulnerable children and the hospice swung into action sourcing PPE, increasing telephone support, and offering emergency respite in bedrooms converted to COVID secure suites.

The challenge during the lockdown was how to bring fun into the lives of the children whilst still caring for all of their needs. The cinema and multi-sensory rooms, the hydrotherapy pool and soft play areas were all out of bounds and the children had to stay in their own bedrooms to be safe.

“We have had to be a bit more creative. I have had foil trays with rice and pasta in to make shakers, used upturned washing up bowls as drums or turned them into paddling pools, splashing, and having really good fun.

“I did discover however that you cannot blow bubbles when you have got a surgical face mask on! Although it did still make the child laugh even if it didn’t work as intended.

“It hasn’t been particularly easy working in the theatre gowns and the visors in full PPE,” admitted Dawn, “But I think the hardest thing with lockdown for me is that I would have liked to have said ta-ra to quite a few of the families that I have known for a long time and the kids that have grown up with me. I have not had that opportunity to do that and that is a bit sad.”

From her home in Withington that she shares with husband Duncan, she plans to keep busy during her retirement with her love of crafts and trips in the family motor home.

However, she won’t be severing all ties with the hospice, and plans to do a few hours as a bank nurse to ‘wean herself off’ from the place that has been such a big part of her life for the last twenty-three years.

“One of the things I am looking forward to is seeing if my nails will actually grow long and learning how to paint them! From being 18 I have never been able to have long nails because I have always been in nursing,” Dawn added with a laugh.

David Ireland, chief executive of Francis House said: “Dawn really understood and lived the Francis House philosophy and ethos and put the families at the centre of everything she did.

“Even through the pandemic Dawn has shown true professionalism and she will be a very difficult person to replace.”

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