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“They must feel the pressure sometimes but they don’t show it to other people. They’re wonderful, just like angels, they’re all just there to help you.”
St Helena has around 100 nurses making a difference for local people every day. We’re celebrating International Year of the Nurse and Midwife by sharing stories about our own nurses who work day and night at the 16-bed Hospice, over the phone through the SinglePoint service, and out across the community in people’s own homes.
Nicola Hammond (pictured with Evelyn) has been part of the team of registered nurses at The Hospice inpatient unit in Highwoods, Colchester, since October 2018. She has been qualified for three years and during her training she did a placement at a neighbouring hospice where she discovered palliative nursing is her passion. Nicola explains:
“In your training people talk about holistic care and that’s what everyone strives for but without a doubt, in palliative nursing that’s where I really see holistic care flourishing because we do have the time and we are set up to look at the person as a whole.
“It’s not just the physical we are treating. At a hospice you can really meet the person’s needs. I think it’s quite a privilege to care for someone at a very difficult time of their life and support their families as well. We are taken into their lives while we’re nursing them here.”
Nicola works an 11.5 hour shift, 3-4 times a week. A typical day shift at St Helena starts at 7.30am with a hand over from the night staff about each patient and what has happened over night. St Helena Hospice has a four bed female bay, a four bed male bay and 8 single rooms, and the nurses coming on shift are allocated who they are to be primarily responsible for that day. Once teamed up with a healthcare assistant to work in partnership with throughout the day, the first job is to visit their patients to say good morning, check how they are, and see if they fancy breakfast or a cup of tea.
Food is an important part of daily life at St Helena and meals are freshly home cooked by the in-house catering team, which is a welcome relief for people visiting their loved ones as it is one less thing to worry about. Because taste buds can change with illness, if a patient doesn’t fancy what’s on the menu, the cooks will whip up something else.
After breakfast and the medication round, the healthcare team prepares their patients for the day by helping them wash and dress.
“We’re very flexible with what our patients want to do,” says Nicola. “Sometimes they don’t want to have a wash, sometimes they want to have a wash later.
Throughout the day, the nurses monitor their patients and spend time supporting them and their families.
“A lot of people believe that a hospice is just a place where people go to die and obviously that is daunting in itself when you know that you have a terminal illness. They may not know that people do come in and have their symptoms managed and then go home as well. They think it will be depressing, that it will be quite a dark and sad place. I think lots of people are surprised when they come in at how inspiring and uplifting it can be.”
During their stay, a patient may also have input from other St Helena professionals such as rehabilitation, counselling, social work, complementary therapy or spiritual care. Nicola is the spirituality link which involves liaising with the chaplaincy team about the services they can provide and that the nurses can call upon if they need to:
“The emotional and the spiritual do play a massive part in the physical care, so it’s something we really have to look at as well, particularly in hospices.
“People can be scared about a lot of things when they arrive and sometimes it takes a little while to get to know a person. We know these people have left their homes, they could be saying goodbye to their home that they’ve lived in for 40 years, seeing it for the last time – that’s a massive thing.
“I think there’s often a lot of things that people are struggling with; often it’s not that they’re worried about themselves, it’s about their family and how they are going to cope. That’s a big part of our job as nurses at The Hospice because we do get to know families quite well and often we see them every day. As well as supporting the patient we are very much involved in supporting the families as well, which is quite a unique thing about hospice care.
“With families, it’s being open and explaining things every step of the way. It’s about being approachable and reiterating to people that we are here to support them as well as their loved ones, and that they can talk to us at any time. They may be very stressed because they have been looking after their loved one and suddenly they’re handing over that care to you. And again, that’s a big thing for them.
“We have to earn their trust and prove that we are going to look after their loved one really, really well. They may never have heard of St Helena, never have met us before… so that’s what we do. A very, very important part of our job is to be approachable.
“I would hope they see us as caring people who just want to make their situation better. We’re not going to cure them, but it’s doing the best we can to help them make the most of the time they have.
“People do say ‘you’re all angels’ and that’s lovely. It gives us nurses massive amounts of job satisfaction because it can be tough being surrounded by people that are very unwell, dying and distressed at times. We have to process this ourselves as individuals and as nurses.”
The nursing team is the first point of call 24/7 for people staying at the hospice, and at the end of her shift, Nicola hands over an update to her nursing colleague about to start the nightshift. She knows she has made a difference for one day in the life of her patients, and that’s one of the main reasons Nicola loves being a nurse at St Helena.
This story may not be published elsewhere without express permission from St Helena Hospice.
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