Inspirational Women Series: #1 Alison Williams
Welcome to this week’s blog. Today, we are excited to introduce our first feature on ‘Inspirational Women.’
The individual that we have selected and interviewed for this week is Alison Williams, a senior research nurse at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Here, Alison works on the Covid-19 wards with patients that are in critical condition.
From first-hand experience, she saw that patients were arriving to the hospital in a panic with little, and sometimes no, personal possessions. She then set up the Rainbow Boxes initiative. Alison asked for donations of basic necessities such as toiletries and pyjamas, but she also wanted to raise money to get the ward an iPad, so that patients could FaceTime their loved ones.
The scheme went viral instantly and to date, Alison has managed to receive donations of just over £25,000. As well as founding Rainbow Boxes and working on the Covid wards, she has also home schooled her two children at the same time!
We think that she is truly remarkable and we hope that her story inspires you too.
Q - Can you tell us about Rainbow Boxes?
A - Rainbow Boxes was set up at the height of the COVID pandemic for hospitalised patients. As a research nurse in the COVID wards I saw first-hand how very little essential items patients had, from toiletries and nightwear to phone chargers and lip balms. With visiting restricted patients were also separated from loved ones when they needed their care and comfort the most. Rainbow Boxes recognised the need for technology to connect patients and families and donated iPads, enabling patients to FaceTime families. At the height of this pandemic Rainbow Boxes were in over 60 wards across 7 hospital sites. iPads were distributed to 50 wards along with over 2000 nightwear items.
Q - How do you celebrate your wins?
A - The recognition I have received for Rainbow Boxes has been very unexpected and lovely. Unfortunately COVID is still here and sadly I see patients dying from the virus daily. The win for me is doing a job that I love and being in a very privileged position to have contact with patients at a very scary time, when their families can’t. How incredible is it that I can offer COVID research whilst giving patients hope and essential items from the Rainbow Box. The iPads offer the ability to FaceTime their families at home who are often isolating. I cannot explain the heart-warming feeling I get when I facilitate a FaceTime call.
Q - How do you deal with the losses?
A - This virus is so cruel and still very, very unpredictable. Sadly I have seen patients die very suddenly and then others that have just amazed me by how they have rallied against the odds. There have been many losses and names that will stay with me forever, but I get a huge amount of comfort knowing that I did everything within my nursing power to make sure they were given amazing care and compassion.
Q - Did you always know that you wanted to be in medicine?
A - From a tiny age I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. This year I celebrate my 20th year doing a job I absolutely love. As much as that makes me feel very old, it makes me smile very widely. I pride myself by always going the extra mile for everyone I nurse, and never underestimating how much nurses influence a patients experience of being in hospital.
Q - What do you love most about being a research nurse?
A - The variety, pre-COVID we offered a wide range of emergency department research. However our attention for the last 10 months has been predominantly COVID related. Never has research been so exciting. Thanks to research we now have treatments we can offer patients admitted to hospital with COVID, the fact that I was maybe a tiny part of that is pretty special.
Q - What is your personal story? How have you gotten to where you are today?
A - Throughout my life no matter what job I have done I have given it my absolute all and smiled a lot at the same time. My jobs have included working in a clothes shop, a bakery and even a party entertainer, dressing up as a bear that had to dance the Hokey Cokey. I’ve always been very sociable and just loved people and conversation. My parents are the most loving, caring people you could ever meet and have instilled in me very strong values of compassion. Nursing was always going to be the path for me to follow. I’m not the most academic and consider myself very average but that hasn’t stopped me getting to where I am today and my famous words are, “if I can do it, anyone can.”
Q - How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
A - My dad always says I’m a doer and my friends will tell you that I am always up to something. I love to be busy and I thrive on juggling multiple responsibilities, it’s just how I am. Sometimes my husband tells me to slow down and stop taking on so much, but it never happens. I love how he just lets me get on with things and do it my way, knowing that my actions are with good intention.
Q - How are you coping with lockdown?
A - I’m good, I’m very thankful that myself and my family are all healthy, and even more thankful that my parents have both been vaccinated. Like everyone I miss the little things but I’m also appreciating the beauty of what is around me. I feel very lucky to have the water of Leith on my doorstep and enjoy my daily break from home schooling with a walk over to Colinton village.
Q - How do you motivate yourself ? Whether that is after a really tough day on the wards or having to cook a meal for the family at the end of a long lockdown day? What are your coping strategies?
A - I work with the most incredible team, some of whom are my best friends and that I have nursed with for 15 years. We keep each other going through the good and the bad. The key is that we all appreciate the importance of our job and what we have to offer patients, and this gives us all the motivation we need. When I’m not working, I love to run. This is when I do all my thinking and reflection. A lot of my ideas for Rainbow Boxes came from my running.
Q - Which incredible women inspire you?
A - I have a wide variety of inspirational women that I love and respect. My boss Miranda is one. A meeting with her gives me the drive to face any challenges head on. I’m always suggesting new ideas to her about bettering patient centred care and she always supports me. Throughout this pandemic she has been the glue that has kept my team together. I have huge respect and admiration for all the strong, powerful women in Edinburgh that commit their time and energy to running incredible community driven charities such as Lynne McNicoll (It’s Good 2 Give!) and Lisa Fleming (Make 2nds Count). Additionally, Kylie Reid (Edinburgh Gossip Girls) inspires me. She has created the most incredible network of power and influence. The EGG group sent my initial appeal and fundraiser to another stratosphere. Kylie’s army got behind me, supporting and trusting me with something they knew very little about. I am so thankful to be part of such a brilliant group and one that makes Edinburgh a better place.