Inspirational women in palliative care – Dr Liz Gwyther

Categories: Care, Must Read, and People & Places.

I would like to acknowledge the exceptional work done by women in hospices and other palliative care services in South Africa. There are many exceptional men in the field also; but this reflection Is written to salute the women in palliative care on Women’s Day.

Women are more often the carers in a family and take on the role of nurture and care of their families, often putting their own needs aside. This is also true when a family member becomes ill. It is usually the wife, the mother, the daughter, the sister, the aunt who takes on the role of primary caregiver in the home. We see this so much in palliative care.

One of the benefits of palliative care is that the care comes to the patient wherever they stay, and they do not have to come to the palliative care service. So, the patient is cared for in his or her own home surrounded by familiar possessions and the people and pets that they love.

The hospice worker who leads this home care is usually the professional nurse; a home-based carer is also a key worker in the home and the social worker will also visit. So, the hospice team is usually a female care team who provide wonderful compassionate care ensuring physical comfort for the patient – good pain control and symptom management, emotional and spiritual support.

The team will also support the family in providing constant care. The family needs relevant easy to understand information and advice on care, including pressure care and mouth care; they also need emotional support and reassurance that they are doing a good job. The change in role from wife or daughter to nurse is a challenge; but most people express the wish to provide this care themselves. I recall a friend whose husband had gone into hospital for tests saying to me “I feel as if my arms are empty!”

Socially, caring is seen as a woman’s role and women are expected to take up the caring role both in families and in communities. It is a role that is not acknowledged sufficiently and certainly does not attract the financial rewards commensurate with the responsibility. Funding of caring activities should receive higher priority. However, women respond to the need and step up to accept provide care with open hearts and open arms.

THANK YOU to all women in hospice and palliative care in South Africa.  Happy Women’s Day and Women’s Month. Remember also, to take care of yourselves!