"It’s lovely to do things for people in their own home."

Karen Wright is a Marie Curie Nurse in the Dudley and Birmingham areas. She tells us what it’s like caring for people living with a terminal illness at home, including sharing their interests and finding out their wishes. 

The support Marie Curie Nurses provide helps people to stay in the comfort and familiar surroundings of their own home.

“Doing the little things for people shows you care.”

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 nice to get to know each person.”

When you care for someone over a period of time, you get to know them. I remember a lady I visited, perhaps eight or nine times, before she died. I knew she really liked watching all the soap series on TV. She was very poorly towards the end. It was Boxing Day, and I thought she would enjoy it if I read the soaps magazine for her. So that’s what I did, and I felt that she enjoyed 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.  

“Talking about things can help.”

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.

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. 

“Everyone is different and has different needs.”

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.

Sometimes, I’ll make someone a cup of tea. That can be such a nice thing, to wake up to a nice cup of tea. Sometimes, I sit and hold the person’s hand, or stroke their head and hand – just to be there, so they know they’re not alone.

You know when someone wants you there, or when they need you to step back. One man asked me to make him pancakes in the middle of the night. His wife had said he wasn’t eating very much, so when he asked for pancakes, I said I was happy to make them, but had no idea how to! He laughed and told me the packet was in the cupboard, so that’s what I used.

I think it’s lovely to be able to do things for people in their own home, and how they want it.

Read more about the work of Marie Curie Nurses like Karen.