Katie Harbour-Roffey is a Healthcare Assistant on our wards. She shares more about her role and why she “loves everything about her job.”
“I joined St Catherine’s in October 2017. I hadn’t worked in a hospice before. I’d worked in care homes and had experience looking after my own family, but I’d always been interested in the whole ethos of end-of-life care.
In care homes, although there are more residents to look after, I saw the palliative side of things and was able to give care to people dying when I could
I’d sit with people, hold their hand, and offer their family support when I had the time. It’s busy here but it’s a different type of busy and you always have time to spend with the people you’re looking after.
At the hospice you get to know every person
You know how they eat, drink, what dressings they have and how they prefer to have their care.
Each shift you’re designated to a particular ward and if you’ve been working the day before you tend to work on the same ward the next day, so people have continuity of care. The first thing I do in the mornings is go round the wards, check the patients and look through their folders for details of their last care.
If a family have stayed overnight, I always offer them a relatives’ breakfast of tea and toast. It’s simple but people are so appreciative and often people remember that tea and toast.
We have a complimentary tea and coffee machine in the Living Well Centre where relatives can help themselves to a drink whenever they need but whenever I can I ask people if I can make them a tea or coffee personally. That way they get it in a mug, and someone’s brought it to them – those things make a difference.
I enjoy everything about my job
And I really enjoy giving people personal care like a bath. When people come into the hospice, often they’ve not had a bath for a long time.
I love seeing their relaxed face when we’re able to hoist them into the bath and the enjoyment that something so simple brings them.
I have the time to sit with people and hold their hands, to reassure them and their families
As a Healthcare Assistant, I can do things like paint people’s nails or give them hand massages and I’m also able to provide emotional support. I have the time to sit with people and hold their hands, and to reassure them and their families during a difficult time. One patient would get quite anxious and paranoid, so I’d play him relaxing music to calm him down. Other patients like having essential oil dropped onto their pillows so they can smell something different as they rest.
The care I give can affect me
I remember when we were caring for two patients with cervical cancer at the hospice on opposite wards. Both were a similar age to me with teenagers. Their illnesses really resonated because at the time I’d just found out I had CINC3 cells myself, which meant I was at the stage before cancer when they mutate.
I couldn’t help but think “that could have been me” and it hit home.
It always resonates with me when people have children
We were looking after one patient recently and her sisters were always here for her. Her children visited a couple of times but when she was very unwell her husband brought the children in. I asked, “Are they seeing Mum, or will they be in the room with Mum as she dies?”
He said yes so I sensitively asked if he had prepared them for what was going to happen. It was a frank question, but we have to remember that will be the last memory those children have of their Mum.
Quite often I and my colleagues get families asking us for advice around things like bringing in children but there’s no right or wrong. Different families make different decisions. I get asked quite a lot “How will someone die?” What physically happens?” and I always answer people as honestly as I can, so they know what’s going to happen. I always say, “I’ll stop if you find it too upsetting or emotional”.
I tell people that their loved one’s breathing will change, and there will be some discolouration of their skin. Some people will become restless and twitchy, others will just look like they’re sleeping. I also let people know about the potential sounds their loved one might make. Sometimes fluid can build up in people’s lungs as they’re dying, and it can sound bubbly when they breathe. That can sound horrible for a relative, but I reassure them it’s more distressing for them than the person dying.
As you get to know patients and relatives so well, you can work out how much to tell them without it being too distressing.
People are always thankful for our honesty as relatives often wonder about someone’s pain, if they’re going to be uncomfortable or distressed or why they’re making certain sounds when they’re dying.
We still provide care during the dying process
For some people that involves moving them to help with their breathing and comfort, but I always offer families choice on if they’d like me or another colleague to stay with them as someone dies.
I tell them I and my colleagues can stay if they want me too, or if they’d prefer to be alone, I let them know that they can ring their bell, and someone will be right there.
On the wards, we all do everything we can to make being at the hospice the best possible experience
When someone dies you think we’ve done the best we can in the time they’ve been with us, but then it’s time to move onto the next person who comes in or who needs our help.
It’s nice to have acknowledgement from patients and families
It’s nice when you’re told “thank you” or someone says you’ve made a difference. I’ve had goosebumps from some of the praise we’ve received but it’s just what we do here.
I love everything about working for St Catherine’s
I don’t plan on leaving here until I retire. I’m 40 next year so I’ve got at least another 25 working years, but I want them to be here.”