2020 was a tough year. One of the hardest things to cope with in our experience as trainees locally was the loss of normality. We knew the usual routine, the plan and many of us had mapped out the short to medium term in career terms. Overnight that disappeared, and the ground became unsteady underfoot.
This isn’t the place to rehash our local COVID experience, but I want to expand on a project that grew from the tumult. Things changed really fast - often multiple times a day. PPE requirements, staffing availability, changes to service and to teaching and so much more led to a sense of helplessness, exacerbating the wider fear and anxiety driven by the pandemic. Nobody really seemed to know what was going on and information was slow enough to cascade down the ranks that it was often outdated by the time it reached everyone’s ears.
We wanted to ensure that there was a more robust method for disseminating information and to ensure that a structure could be provided that would allow everybody to be updated and ask questions. After various discussions and trials, we settled on a weekly newsletter that would summarise the information and give links to resources for people to come back and check.
And so LOLIPOP! was born!
A competition was held to name the project and the winning entry was - Latest Online Links for Improved Practice Of Paediatrics - or LOLIPOP! for short…
This evolved to include other sections - wellbeing, morale boosters and a birthday calendar along with the usual suspects such as service updates, staffing needs, a teaching timetable and a Greatix of the Week. The team put in a brilliant effort, delivering the newsletter without fail, every Friday for a year, come rain, shine, annual leave or night shifts.
Our birthday coincidentally coincided with whatever iteration of “Freedom Day” we were up to by that point. To celebrate LOLIPOP! turning one, we decided to hold a Festival of Paediatrics! To spend time in each other’s company, socially and to rebuild some of the supportive measures we’d previously taken for granted in the workplace.
We were generously given all the teaching slots for the week (well nearly all. Apparently this wasn’t a good enough reason to cancel MDTs but there you go…) and planned our schedule out. Every session was held in person and streamed so those at home could enjoy the fun. Invitations were put out to the wider MDT too, who joined us for certain sessions.
Our play therapists helped decorate our handover room and we put up some other prompts - wellbeing resources, reminders of events and my favourite - the Boast Board, where people were encouraged to write down one thing they were proud of themselves for in the last year. It could be surviving! It could be that long-awaited first author publication - whatever they wanted to share and feel good about!
We themed the days. On Monday we had a welcome breakfast which was generously sponsored by a local supermarket. We’d created a little video to introduce the week and get the atmosphere right from the off - relaxed, fun and celebratory. Our lunchtime slot saw one of our most popular newsletter sections - an interview series come to life, as one of our consultants agreed to be interviewed by a registrar in front of the audience.
Tuesday was Entertainment Day. We held a Balloon Debate to find out what the single best piece of Paediatric Equipment would be if you could only choose one. Neonates, ED & General Paeds were represented and the winner was...Bubbles. We do have a stereotype to uphold after all.
Later, we recreated the TV show “Would I Lie to You?” where six of our consultants showed off their mad deception skills, honed over years of clinical practice [Lawyers: Dr Daniels is clearly joking and not casting aspersions on any member of the RCPCH]. It was brilliant - you could feel the team relax and lose the tensions that had accumulated over the year, session by session.
Wednesday saw our first old skool team social at a favoured pub since August 2020. From 5pm to closing, we ate, drank and laughed together, being joined by former colleagues, nurses and other allied health professionals. The simple restorative pleasure we’d often taken for granted in previous jobs. And yes, we attended the MDT too.
Thursday was Appreciation Day. Our morning sessions was given over to our Greatix team who recapped some of the citations that had been put forward over the past year. We were fortunate to be joined by the Trust CEO for this session, who shared her appreciation for all that the team had done. Our second session that day was the second iteration of out local awards ceremony, the Barneys (PAFTAs are so passé). This was a very light-hearted way of showing our colleagues what it was about them uniquely that was loved. Categories included “Most Colourful Paediatrician” and “Most likely to get scans”.
To close the week, Friday had to go out with a bang. We’re based in North London in a borough with a large Jewish population, including many of our staff. One of whom, held a baking masterclass teaching everyone to make Challah, a traditional Jewish bread eaten on Friday night and Saturday.
Reader - it was unbelievable. I don’t bake. But this was so good. As a connoisseur of challah down the years, (conservative estimate of ~4000 different challah eating episodes to date) this was up there with the best. You can find the recipe below.
Barnet was famed for its traditional Friday lunches pre-pandemic. The whole team stopped what they were doing and came together to eat, with no excuses short of a crash call tolerated. This was an early casualty of social distancing measures, so we were ecstatic to be allowed to bring it back. Everyone brought something in, and our local pizza takeaways were incredibly generous, gifting us a tower of pizzas to celebrate. We’re very lucky to have an outdoor space on our ward, and we sat outside, in glorious sunshine.
But there was a little surprise we hadn’t shared with the wider team. The world’s Premier Paediatric Parody band, ColdSpray sent one of their group up to perform their first ever LIVE FACE TO FACE GIG! We were treated to acoustic renditions of their classics as well as some new, never-previously performed material. Everyone was in stitches, and the performance became even more unique when another registrar got up to jam with the band. It was the perfect end to the week.
So what did we learn?
One: we have some brilliant colleagues. Good people who I’m sad not to have spent more time with outside of work.
Two: Even those of us who are “antisocial” still need the social. We’re social creatures in stressful jobs, at high risk of burnout and we need outlets to decompress. These natural, human interactions are critical to maximising a team
Three: The afterglow lasted weeks. Seriously. People were still talking about sessions and sharing pictures and videos well after the event. Set piece events like this take time to plan, but are fantastic and well worth it
Four: There’s nothing new under the sun. We’re not the first department to share information, nor to have common issues nor find common fixes. So steal and tweak any good idea you can find - whatever works works. Reinventing the wheel is for engineers, not healthcare professionals
Five: Bake the challah recipe below. It’ll change your life.
Please find me on Twitter @ccdaniels65 if you want to know any more about LOLIPOP!, LOLIPOP! Live or anything else!
Dr Tobin’s Challah Recipe (adapted)
500g strong white bread flour
60g caster sugar
60g veg oil
1 whole medium egg and one yolk (save the white for wash)
Mix dry ingredients together, then add in the oil & egg
Add 200mls of warm water slowly
Knead for around 10mins
Prove until about doubled in size (conveniently a ward round is the perfect amount of time)
Braid. Make 4 sausages and connect them at one end. Number them from left to right. Then put sausage 4 over sausage 2, then sausage 1 over sausage 3 and repeat over and over until it’s all braided up. Watch a Youtube video for a visual explanation.
Prove again for a bit (an afternoon of ward jobs should suffice)
Brush with egg wash
Bake for around 25mins at 200°C (fan)