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What it’s really like being a hospice nurse

Our nurses are often described as ‘angels’ by the people they care for. Caroline Collins is just one nurse on our Inpatient Unit. Here, she shares her experiences of being a hospice nurse.

“So you’re a nurse! Which hospital do you work in?” “I don’t work in a hospital; I’m a hospice nurse.” At this point, the common response is a mixture of horror and pity, “Gosh, how do you do that job? It must be so difficult…”

“Being a hospice nurse”

I’ve been reflecting on what being a hospice nurse means to me. The fact that we’re able to accept our brand of care isn’t about nursing people back to health, but about helping our patients feel as good as they can ‘all things considered’, is probably at the heart of what we do.

Our patients and their families come from all walks of life and view things from their own perspectives. Some people don’t want to ‘make a fuss,’ even though we wish they would, whilst others are used to speaking out and making their feelings known. Whatever the nature of the people we care for, we work hard to find a common ground.

“We care for everyone”

We nurse our neighbours, the assistant in the corner shop, the refuse collectors who pick up our household waste, the school teacher who educates our children and the bank manager who declines or approves our mortgage. We’re ordinary, but we work in extraordinary situations. That’s why when thanked by a family member for taking good care of those close to them at the end of their life, we tell them, “It’s our privilege,” and there’s nothing glib about that response.

“Dealing with life’s taboos is refreshing”

We deliver compassionate care with integrity and openness. We often instigate conversations others are too afraid to have. We deal with life’s taboos. And that is so refreshing. Allowing a patient or relative to open up and ask the questions they’ve hidden away for fear of shocking their family, is like breathing in fresh air. To make it okay to laugh about some of the darker aspects of a person’s frightening journey is a gift. Lending your shoulder for someone to cry on is always moving.

Naturally we also carry out all the tasks many associate with nursing. We administer medication, including injections. We give blood transfusions, flush chemo lines, dress wounds, take temperatures and blood pressures (with a nifty machine that means you don’t need silence to listen for the heart beat). We help patients sip a drink or eat and none of us are ‘too posh to wash’, in fact that’s the ‘task’ I enjoy most of all. Maintaining a patient’s dignity and gaining their trust through the care that you gently give is extremely satisfying. It’s during such intimate moments of care that we often have our most important chats with patients. We discover life stories, regrets, desires and fears and sometimes provide the opening that a person needs to get a few issues off their chest. We help people suffering from scary conditions to find a way to move forward.

“It’s a rewarding career”

We also provide lots of care and compassion by being there with our patients to hold their hands, to help take the fear out of dying and to dispel the myths that surround the end of life. We can’t nurse their bodies back to health, but we can help to soothe their souls. There’s nothing more rewarding.”

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