I recall driving my dad to the hospice. My mum and sister were in another car and so we were alone.
He was a mariner, leaving home when he was just 16 for a life of adventure on the high seas. He served in the merchant navy and then when I was born, applied to join the Marine Craft Section of the Royal Air Force. He retired from service as I went up to university and he and mum moved to Hong Kong as he’d found a job teaching new recruits in the Hong Kong Boat Police.
As we drove through the quiet roads which led out to the hospice I wondered what he was thinking as he looked out of the window. He didn’t say and I never asked.
At the hospice he was evaluated and then taken through to the room in which he would die a few weeks later.
Coping with the death of a close relative is hard. Dealing with the dying is harder.
My mum had struggled to cope with dad at home and it was difficult to have the conversation about moving to the hospice. I’m so glad we did.
Dad would always seem bright and interested whenever we visited. He never complained about anything – something my mum got exasperated about as she could see that he was sometimes in pain.
We got to know the nurses well. They were typically slightly older than the nurses you find in a hospital. My dad’s situation while unique to us, was nothing new to them. This never showed however and they were unfailingly supportive and thoughtful. They always had time for us whenever we visited and would sometimes share little snippets of conversations they’d had with dad. This was disproportionately reassuring – they were demonstrating their full engagement with him even while we were away.
As he declined and became less responsive we could see his death approaching. In the quiet hours of the night the lights were dimmed. We sat in silent contemplation watching the rising and falling of my father’s chest, his breath rattling in and out rhythmically.
I don’t know the name of the nurse who looked after dad that last night. Somehow in the anxiety and sadness I never learnt her name. No matter – she was there for my mother and the rest of us. Her calmness and empathy eased our distress. Her overt competence provided reassurance that all the right things were being done.
Later, after my dad had passed, she kindly sat next to my mum and talked gently with her. A strong cup of tea was provided and we left, knowing that my dad remained bathed in kindness and good care.
Today is international nurses day. I’d like to use this small platform to say thank you to the nurses in the world who do the job that they have been trained to do, with kindness and compassion.
Being a good nurse means being well trained, properly supported and a member of a profession with high standards. Being a great nurse – like the nurse who cared for us that final night – means never forgetting that we are all unique.
Question: What do you think makes a great nurse great? Leave a comment below.