A day in the life of a lymphoedema specialist nurse

12 Mar 2019

Meet Rachel Gray, a Lymphoedema Specialist Nurse at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice. Rachel, who has worked as a nurse since 2002, helps to run the hospice’s Lymphoedema Clinic. In this blog post, she talks us through a day in her life.

Starting the day with lots of tea

I have one of those sunlight alarms which wakes me up slowly; it’s so much nicer than a bleeping alarm. I get up at half six and have a bowl of porridge and a much-needed cup of tea. After lots of hugs with the children, it’s time to get on the road in my electric car and drive to the hospice. I arrive between 20 past and half past eight, sign in, and start setting up in one of the clinic’s consultation rooms. I have to have another cup of tea as well!

I work with a lovely team of other lymphoedema nurses and everyone at St John’s is really friendly. In the morning I see a mixture of new patients and have follow up appointments.

What is lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a long-term condition of swelling in the body’s tissues caused by the lymphatic system not working properly. There is no cure, but it can be controlled and symptoms managed. At our clinic, we care for people with secondary lymphoedema, for example as a result of cancer or a cancer treatment. I base my appointments around the four cornerstones of lymphoedema management: compression, lymphatic drainage, skin care and exercise.

At the clinic we help to reassure people – we listen, give support and help them to manage their symptoms. Lymphoedema has different effects on different people, so we take a holistic approach and look at treatment that is suitable to a patient’s specific needs.

In-between appointments, I do paperwork and keep adrift of current practice and the latest products. At the moment I’m trying to find the perfect compression stocking garment for our patients.

Lunch is very important! I usually eat a nice sandwich. My husband is a good cake maker, and when he makes my lunch he often puts in a slice of his infamous sponge cake with chocolate chips!

"My day can very busy, but it is never boring"

After lunch I see more patients. I also write letters and send prescription requests to GPs. My day can be very busy, but it is never boring.

Every person, every patient, is different and has their own story to tell. I learn a lot from my patients. The most rewarding thing about my job is seeing a positive change in people over time. For example, seeing a patient going from being quite despondent and unmotivated to having a spring in their step, knowing they are managing their own lymphoedema and things are working.

There is nothing better than people saying: “I can carry on with my life”, or “I can carry on with my gardening”, or “I can carry on with my crafting.” It is a good feeling, knowing you have helped to make someone’s life a lot better.

At St John’s Hospice we are lucky to be surrounded by beautiful countryside. My consultation room looks out over fields, which has got to be the best view ever! On a busy day, I can open my curtains and look out at the pheasants and the deer and the blackbirds. It is very tranquil.

At the end of the working day, I drive back home and spend time with my kids. We try and have dinner together as a family – I think it is really important to do that. In the evenings I usually chill out with a good cup of tea.

Outside of work, I love family history and genealogy, as well as walking and outdoor stuff. I’m usually in bed by 10pm or 10.30pm – I do try to get a good night’s sleep, eat well and do plenty of exercise.

For more information

Referrals to the Lymphoedema Clinic at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice can be made by any healthcare professional. Please visit our St John's Hospice page or call the clinic on 01767 642 241.

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