“I always say, ‘I’m not leaving until this is sorted’”
Richard Gamlin is a Marie Curie Nurse and a member of the rapid response team in Durham – meaning he’s on hand to quickly reach people living with a terminal illness when they need him. He tells us why helping people spend their final days and hours at home matters to him.
“If you ask people living with a terminal illness where they want to be during their last days, the vast majority will say at home.
“Home is calm and peaceful. The pace is different. People can do what they want. They can have their own belongings around them and be in their own environment.
“It should be possible for people to die at home, and it nearly always is. The rapid response team helps make that happen for lots of people. We’re on call to help people urgently, and we get to them within the hour.”
Confidence and compassion
“As soon as you answer the phone, you’re developing a relationship with that person and their family. It’s absolutely essential to do that.
I’ll then drive over to a person’s home with a healthcare assistant, and together we’ll help them in any way we can – by administering pain relief, giving emotional support or providing other essential care.
“When we first go into someone’s home, we need to make a calm and confident assessment of the situation. I’m not the most confident person with everything I do in life, but with my job I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Time is precious
“We care deeply about what we do and never take short cuts. I will always say to the patient and the family, ‘I’m not leaving until this is sorted.’
“The top question people ask me is how long their loved one has left. That’s a difficult one because we don’t know.
“I’ve answered that question before by saying that time is very precious and that I can’t be exact, but how would it help them to know? Some people would say, ‘Well, I’d say goodbye.’ I’d say, ‘Well, now is the time to do that anyway.’”
The comforts of home
“Sometimes people want their pets with them when they die, or someone might want to have a piece of music on. That’s the sort of thing that can happen at home, which is pretty difficult in hospitals.
“There was one guy I remember well who was just a few months younger than me. I was going to his home to give him regular medication. I went to wash my hands, and I noticed his CD collection had lots of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I was brought up on those two many years ago, and we just started chatting about them.
“That man died a few days later. I wasn’t working, but my colleague knew how much I thought of him and rang me to tell me – if I’d known I’d have been on my way. I rang his wife a little later to find out how he’d been and how the family were doing. The thing I’ll always remember was that he was lying in bed, with his wife and their two children in their 20s around him, listening to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.”
Making things a little better
“My job can be distressing but my distress is minute compared to the distress of the patient and family. We do shed the odd tear but I think you’ve got to be in control.
If I can make things just a little bit better, and in some cases an awful lot better, it’s worth it.”