How our nurses care for people with different religious beliefs

In 30 years as a Marie Curie Nurse, Hope Price has cared for people from many different cultures and religions at the end of their lives. She talks about the importance of understanding different faiths to her work. 

As Marie Curie Nurses, we want to connect with our patients and give them the care they want, rather than just what needs to be done for them physically.

If we’re going into a home where it’s likely a patient may die, I’ll make sure I’ll have in my mind what their religion likes to do, because it is important to get it right straight away.

Each religion has their own undertakers and different rules about things like whether you can touch a dead body, and whether a woman can touch a man’s body. It’s important that we get that right.

Religious beliefs

I’ve been to Muslim families, Sikhs, Jewish people and Hindus. I once visited a very devout Muslim man, who was in his late 30s. He had been seeking healing through his faith and had gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca, a few weeks before.

All the family except the patient were keeping Ramadan and were not eating until 10.30pm. The rest of the night, they were praying. The patient said to his wife in Urdu: “They have sent an angel to me tonight.” He appreciated so much the care he received from our nurses. 

His Muslim faith meant a great deal to him. He had brought back, from Mecca, something that looked like charcoal, which he had on a tray. Every now and then he wanted to put his hands on it, then wanted his hands washed in a special way. Cleanliness mattered very much to him.

Language barriers

It was important that people didn’t come into the house with their outdoor shoes on. Marie Curie Nurses are not allowed to take their shoes off, so we wore plastic shoe covers, like you do in swimming pools. That was important to him that we kept to his rules of hygiene and cleanliness.

Another family I visited were Greek Orthodox. The priest came in with all his regalia and said special prayers. The entire room was chock-a-block with people who didn’t leave till about one in the morning. It’s important as a nurse in someone’s home to fit in with what they and their family want to do.

Communication isn’t always easy. I’ve visited people who speak Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Lithuanian and Polish, among others.

Communication is key

If it’s an elderly person who is ill, in particular if it’s an elderly lady, they may not have learned English.

One lady I saw was suffering from dementia, and was very confused. I was trying to calm her as best I could, but she only spoke Punjabi, so there was no language we could communicate with. Eventually I was able to calm her and settle her.

We come across so many patients who have communication difficulties, either because of language or because of their illness. In particular, patients with motor neurone disease have great difficulties in communicating. Speech is often the first thing they lose, so we may be communicating with sign language, or a board with letters on or complete words.

It is such a blessing and a privilege to be able to help people to stay at home. Most people, want to stay at home at the end of their lives, being looked after by their loved ones.