Sixteen years ago, I joined the Galway Hospice Foundation, following a move back from London to start a new life with my wife in the West of Ireland. I trained as a nurse in the U.K. with a background in Oncology. However, I would eventually be guided towards Palliative Care. This was in part due to some inspiring colleagues and mentors, but I was also attracted to a discipline of nursing that seemed like a good fit for my own philosophy and character.
Essentially an approach with the emphasis on quality of life for patients and their families, Palliative Care aims to prevent and relieve suffering in those with a serious and often life-threatening illness. While there may be physical symptoms like pain and nausea to address, there is equal significance put on psychosocial and spiritual issues. It is under this umbrella of Palliative Care that the medical, nursing and therapeutic ethos of the Galway Hospice Foundation is practiced.
Although traditionally seen as a service that deals predominantly with the effects of cancer, our role diversifies to other illnesses that may be advanced or life threatening. This could include illnesses like Motor Neuron Disease, Dementia and Cardiac Failure. It is a service that is available to those of any age.
I work as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Home Care Department (Community Palliative Care). Our team also includes a Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Doctors, Social Workers, Therapists and Pastoral Care. As Clinical Nurse Specialists, we are required to have advanced training and are independently accredited.
From time to time, I find myself dispelling the myth of what Hospice Home Care signifies. A referral to us does not mean that all hope is lost. It does not mean that the pleasures of daily life will stop. In fact, it is our aim to empower the patient to live at home with dignity, whilst being able to access a professional and compassionate programme of care designed around that person and their family. In our line of work, the use of the word ‘family’ can be wide-ranging. For example, it could mean that the patient is under the loving care of staff in a Residential or Nursing Home. In other cases, ‘family’ might comprise a solitary loyal friend, or even a beloved pet.
As part of my role, I do hundreds of home visits each year. As the only male on the team, I suppose it is inevitable that when people meet me for the first time, it can challenge the image they may have had of the ‘Hospice Nurse’. I’ve had serious convincing to do over the years that I wasn’t the oil delivery man, the plumber, the insurance salesman, and at one point I spent a good ten minutes in a farmyard pleading for someone to believe that I wasn’t the A.I. man!
It never fails to amaze me how “The Hospice” has such a place in the hearts and minds of so many people. Although established from humble beginnings and predominantly with the support of the people of Galway and the West of Ireland, it has developed into a highly specialized, internationally accredited institution. The Home Care Department is, and has been, a great place to work. Collectively, our aim at the Galway Hospice Foundation is to have a positive and life-affirming effect on those for whom we care.
I meet extraordinary people doing this job. People of every age who display amazing strength. People who are sometimes vulnerable and often very ill, but who can channel immense adversity into profound courage. I meet children who have inspired more people in their short lives than most of us could dream of doing in ten lifetimes. I meet women and men with the life experience of many decades, who will not let the small matter of a non-curative illness get in their way of living a life. I meet the families of these extraordinary people who give selflessly of themselves. In sporting terms, I meet the kind of people you would want at your back. In a world where words like ’hero’ are used loosely, I’m privileged to meet the real deal as part of my working life.
Clinical Nurse Specialist, Galway Hospice