Senior Nursing Assistant Melissa has worked in palliative and end-of-life care for eight years and has been part of the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice at Home team for the last four. She talks about her experiences of supporting patients and their families at home through the toughest times, the strong bonds built and what a privilege it is providing truly personal care.
It's such an honour to be a Sue Ryder Nurse
People say it must be a really depressing and difficult job, but it’s actually such an honour. It’s one of those jobs where it doesn’t matter how your day went, you can guarantee that at least one person will have sincerely thanked you. It happens at every house, every day and when someone is really thanking you and really meaning it you don’t take that for granted.
Families are always so grateful and we can feel that, which means the job is not as hard as people imagine it to be. I love my working days. Once I’m in the uniform and in the car, I’m happy. Sometimes it’s all about talking to the patient, hearing what they have to say and letting them offload a bit. I’m privileged that I have a job that allows me to take my time with patients.
“You get to know patients really well”
You build relationships really quickly when you are in and out of someone’s house three times in a day and you get to know patients really well, so we are always aware when there is even a slight change in their condition.
I would say in the Hospice at Home service, supporting the family can be 50 per cent of what we do. In fact, sometimes we are spending more time with the family members if the patient is comfortable or sleeping. The family are facing the loss of someone they really love as well as trying to look after them, using medical equipment they have never used before and dealing with medication. They are often frightened of doing things wrong and any change in the patient can be scary for them, so we spend a lot of time trying to reassure them and prepare them for what will happen.
Caring through the pandemic
The last year has been even more stressful for families because of COVID-19. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my loved one was dying and someone said to me ‘you have to restrict your visit, you can’t come and go as you want, you have to wear a mask’, but people have been so understanding.
At the start of the pandemic our families were definitely more stressed, with that extra level of worry that they might be putting their loved one at risk. Our service remains very much the same, but we are wearing visors and masks which can make it harder to connect with people as they can only really see your eyes.
I just love the patient-centred care that we are able to offer. It still surprises me when people say your job must be so difficult. It’s the best job in the world. Where else would you get to make this kind of difference?
Helping David and his family
We often talk about the photos that people have around them and I really think patients like there to be a bit of normality. If you would normally have the radio on in the room and a load of washing in the machine every day then to suddenly keep a house in absolute silence would be strange for a patient.
People find familiar sounds comforting and it was things like that that we were able to help David’s family with. I hope we were able to support them through the difficult decisions. I remember when we suggested it was time for him to have a hospital bed, the family all got together and rearranged the front room and it became a beautiful bedroom for him.
On the day David died we called their vicar for them and he came and I hope that gave them some comfort. David kept his Bible beside his bed, so we knew his faith was important to him.
When the family stepped out so we could perform the last offices we picked a rose from a bush in the garden and laid it on his pillow and placed his Bible under his hand. It’s a way for us to say that we have been privileged to look after your family and hopefully it also leaves them with a good memory, as any of us would want.
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