Five things I’ve learned caring for people living with terminal illness

Karen Wright is a Marie Curie Nurse caring for people in the Dudley and Birmingham areas who are living with a terminal illness at home. Here she reflects on what she’s learned from her job. 

Reading can be a powerful escape

“One lady I was looking after couldn’t sleep, so I talked to her. She said that she hadn’t read a magazine in years, and as I had one with me, I gave it to her. She sat there reading it, just enjoying it for a couple of hours. It felt good that she was getting some pleasure out of such a simple thing. After that, every time I went to see her in her home, I took a magazine with me for her.”

“I’m not sure why she hadn’t read a magazine in such a long time. I know from my experience that sometimes, when people get caught up in their illness, they forget that doing normal things, like reading a magazine, could be a nice escape.”

It’s a privilege to be part of people’s lives, whenever you come into it

“Some of the elderly people I look after live on their own. It makes me sad whenever I have to let myself into their home, and then let myself out again at the end of my nursing shift. There’s no-one else there for them, so the time you spend with them becomes all the more important.”

“I’ve been to a couple of funerals – you get close to the people you care for, and are a part of their lives for that time. It’s a privilege to be there for them. Some people find it hard to stay in touch afterwards though, perhaps because you do remind them of a very sad time in their lives.”

Having a neutral person there to talk to can help the whole family

“Sometimes people open up to you as they don’t want to put extra pressure on their own family. They share their worries with you and talk to you about the things and people they’re leaving behind.”

“One man told me he wanted to get his Will sorted out so we had a chat about it. When I went back to see him again, he already had his Will written and he felt so much better about things.”

“As a Marie Curie Nurse, I’m also there to support the family, and talk to them about their concerns or anything else they want to discuss. Some people are upset about their situation and why this is happening to them. I try to reassure them and say that we’re not there to do anything they don’t want us to do.”

A terminal diagnosis doesn’t mean family life stops

“Once I looked after a very private and quiet man. As I was leaving, he said ‘thank you, you have made me feel like I can carry on’ and that really made my day.”

“It can be difficult emotionally when you’re caring for young people with young children. I cared for a gentleman who had been ill for a while. He had two young children. His daughter would get up in the morning, feed the cat, give him a hug and then go off to school. It was nice to see that he was still part of his family life by being at home.”