Annabel Hale, Staff Nurse at St Christopher’s Hospice, Sydenham, London
Transitioning from nursing student to a fully-fledged staff nurse is no mean feat. Faced with full accountability and complete responsibility, I can no longer hide behind my safe, protected supernumerary status. It has, and I suspect will continue to be, a daunting experience for the rest of my career. The change has been a rocky one, causing me to doubt my own abilities, fearing sometimes I would be no more competent working in a fast-food restaurant let alone being trusted with people’s lives. As the weeks have gone on, however, and with the support of my colleagues, I’m beginning to warm to my title of Staff Nurse.
Many people appeared surprised by my decision to head directly into palliative care. The palliative care setting seemingly might not have the appeal of a fast-paced acute hospital, so why would I want to work in a hospice? Surely there is nothing more depressing than facing death on a sometimes daily basis? It is not so! Having not had a student placement in palliative care, my first imagining of a hospice setting was one of primarily just death—I suspect many people may think the same thing. However, I have seen patients laugh, sing along to songs, paint pictures, go to the gym, sit out in the garden, and enjoy curry night with their families. I’ve begun to realise that not only do we deal with death, we just as abundantly deal with life.
I imagine healthcare professionals, in whichever field, encounter their own personal successes, but to see a patient admitted with uncontrollable pain and to be part of a team that is able to manage it and keep them comfortable, is probably one of the highlights of my job. To be able to look a family member in the eye and tell them that their loved one died peacefully brings real solace and makes that loss a little easier to bear. Death is a funny thing, it is one of life’s certainties (along with taxes) but it is not often talked about. I’m guilty myself of thinking, ‘I don’t need to think about it, it won’t happen to me’, but the reality is that we all have an expiry date and if we can get dying right, how much better may we live?