How long have you been at St Bernard’s Hospice?
I have been with St Bernard’s Hospice for the past 6 years. Before joining, I started as a student nurse at hospital and later trained to be a primary health care sister. So currently I am a general nurse/midwife community nurse.
Is there any difference between a midwife/community nurse?
Yes there is. A midwife is someone who takes care of both pregnant mother and baby after and during delivery. Once the baby has been born, a midwife is responsible for ensuring that the baby receives the necessary immunisation and is healthy. I am very much experienced in this area as I delivered over 100 babies.
Community nurses play a crucial role in the primary health care team. They provide care and support for patients out of hospital, often in clinics and communities. I did my community nursing training through the University of Port Elizabeth over a period of 2 years as we only had 1 lecture per week.
How did you end up at St Bernard’s Hospice?
At the age of 65 I retired and decided to visit London where I worked at an old age home for people living with cancer. I spent the past 8 years there and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to expand my experience by helping others especially palliative care. On my return to South Africa, St Bernard’s Hospice at the time was looking to appoint a registered nurse where community nursing experience was one of the requirements as well as primary health care experience. Fortunately I had this especially primary health care experience which allowed me to give immediate care to a patient. If the patient was sick with minor elements I could dispense certain medication. If it was more of a serious nature I would then refer to a doctor or clinic. I applied and 6 years later, I’m still here – even at the age of 75! I love palliative care and this is what drives me.
What is your typical day like?
Fridays are my preparation days for the week to follow. I plan my visits accordingly and on an average day see up to 6 patients a day. There are times that my patients are very ill and have to attend to them more than once a week.
One of the hardest things for me when visiting patients is when you don’t have any direct access to patient’s homes. There are times that I have to park my car and walk through streams to get to a patient. Many of them live in small little shack where space is very limited and can become very dark. In most cases there is no water which makes it even more difficult. Besides all the challenges, we attend to the patient’s needs.
One of the biggest highlights for me was when I had a very ill patient that could not move or eat. Conditions in the shack was really bad because when it rained the place was entirely flooded. We continued to persevere to an extent that one of the patients sisters started helping us in the community and at the same time gained nursing experience. With this experience she could now look after her very own sister and attend to other sick patients in her community. She is now employed as a carer at our hospice as well as the patient who has fully recovered through hospice intervention