Going the extra mile to care for patients

Margaret Ann Norrie has been a Marie Curie Nurse since 2009, covering Argyll and Bute. She often visits patients over 75 miles away from her home near Loch Lomond. It can be a long, cold journey, but there’s always a warm greeting waiting.

Landslides, snowstorms, long-distance drives and deer on the road – these are just some of the challenges Margaret Ann contends with to reach the people who need her.

“It’s not unknown for me to go up to Oban, which is a 150-mile round trip. Roads can be challenging – they’re really bad at the moment. There can be a landslide so you have to take a detour.

“Often in rural communities you’ve got single track roads which aren’t the best. Finding them in the dark can be challenging. More often than not you’re given the name of a house rather than a number so it’s not on Google Maps. Although the district nurse will have given instructions, in the dark it can be very different and difficult to find.”

The team make sure to look out for each other, says Margaret Ann.

“We keep in touch with one another and if we’re all working at night we check that everyone’s got to their shift okay”.

A snowy road from the window of a car
Picture of snowy conditions on the A83, by Zoe Airlie

Taking sensible precautions

While the weather and roads can be unpredictable, Margaret Ann does everything she can to be prepared.

“I check Traffic Scotland to make sure I’m able to get to the shift. Social media helps too; I’m a member of the ‘Friends of the A83’ Facebook group so I know if the roads are shut.

“Up here the mobile phone coverage is often not good. If you were to break down you might have to walk to find connection. I always make sure I have a blanket, my walking boots and a big coat in the car with me.

“When they name a storm, then I tend to think it’s too risky to travel. If the weather’s got a name attached to it they you need to take it seriously! If I’m worried about the weather I get in touch with my manager. They would try and get someone local [to cover for me] if that happened.”

Margaret Ann and another Marie Curie Nurse holding a sign calling for Better end of life care for all
Margaret Ann and her colleague showing their support for The Great Daffodil Appeal

A memorable journey

There’s one visit that stands out in her memory as being particularly challenging.

“A few years back, I had a shift in Dunoon. You can drive round, or get the ferry. I usually drive but on this night there was a bus that came off the road at Rest and be Thankful [near the junction of the A83 and the B828] – it’s a known problem area because you get landslides and snow.

“A tourist bus had come off the road, so that night I had to change plans and go by ferry. Of course everyone had the same idea. I had to squeeze on the ferry at Gourock. But I left half an hour early as I knew it would be busy. You always have to give yourself time.

“Sometimes the patients do worry about you, they say ‘take your time; don’t rush’.”

A difficult transition

After a long, solitary drive, Margaret Ann takes a moment to get herself ready to begin her shift.

“After quite a bad drive up, when it’s windy and wild, it can be hard to compose yourself.

“You’ve got deer on the road up here, it’s quite quiet. It’s not unusual to drive over an hour for a shift, and then you have to go in and look after the family. Then you’ve got the drive home in the morning. Sometimes we go out to a shift and then when we come back there are six inches of snow.

“With the little cottages, people sometimes put fluorescent jackets on the fence posts so we can find them. When you’ve travelled such a long way they really appreciate the distance you’ve come. They know what you’ve done to get there.”

Worth the journey

Despite the challenges, Margaret Ann loves the variety of her job, and getting to know her patients.

“The best thing about my job is meeting people, and being able to help. I enjoy speaking to people, and finding out about the family. There are always these clues around the house, and you find out about the person.

“They’ve had a life, they’ve lived.

“I’ve met so many interesting people. Getting to know them, being welcomed into their house at a very tragic time, is highly emotional. They welcome you in and treat you like family.”

“You never know what’s behind the door. It’s different every time. That first visit you never know what you’re going to find. So it’s very challenging, but rewarding at the same time.”
Margaret Ann Norrie

You can help nurses like Margaret Ann provide invaluable care and support to people living with a terminal illness, by getting involved with the Great Daffodil Appeal. All your effort and donations will help people living with a terminal illness make the most of the time they have left.