Healthy Living: Caring nurse service fulfils our last wishes

Intensive Home Nursey Service support workers Kealy Neale (left) and Pam Cartwright pictured at the Michael Carllisle Centre in Osbourne Road.
Intensive Home Nursey Service support workers Kealy Neale (left) and Pam Cartwright pictured at the Michael Carllisle Centre in Osbourne Road.
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There are few genuinely taboo subjects left in society - but death is surely among the topics still most rarely discussed even today.

However, across Sheffield a team of dedicated staff must face the reality of terminal illness and dying every single day in order to help people achieve their wish of ending their days at home.

The intensive home nursing service, run by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, offers one-to-one care 24 hours a day for patients believed to be in their last few weeks.

As part of a recruitment drive, the hospitals trust wants to take on more support workers for the nursing service, and an event is being held on Wednesday where those interested in applying can discuss the jobs on offer.

Pam Cartwright has been a support worker for five years, and said her experiences have completely changed her outlook on death.

The former primary school teacher lost her mum after acting as her full-time carer for seven months.

Her mother was in hospital, and Pam missed her final moments when she left her for just 20 minutes.

Afterwards she decided she wanted to help people in a similar situation.

“The support worker job came up - it didn’t say it was palliative care, just looking after people who had come home from hospital, which is what I’d done with my mum.

“I actually think, if I had known beforehand, I would have shied away from it. Death is taboo in our culture and people don’t talk about it until it happens.

“People feel apologetic for bringing it up.”

New recruits visit patients’ homes with colleagues until they have cared for someone in their final moments.

Pam said she was surprised by the peacefulness of the first death she witnessed.

“It is just like a light has gone out. The essence of the person is not there anymore. It makes you realise the fragility of life, but also how strong patients who are extremely frail are. It’s amazing how often somebody will hang on for a particular person to arrive to say goodbye.”

She added: “Our main role is to make sure any symptoms that occur are dealt with so patients are not in any discomfort or pain.”

The word palliative originated with the Medieval Latin verb ‘palliare’, meaning ‘to cloak’, which Pam said remains a fitting description.

“A cloak makes you feel warm and comfortable, which really is what palliative care is.”

Fellow support worker Kealy Neale said the job made her feel ‘humbled and proud’.

“Someone told me when I started working for the intensive home nursing service that once we arrive, we do the caring so the families can concentrate on loving and I think this sums up my role as a support worker.

“People have the same reaction when I tell them what I do for a living - ‘I bet that’s so depressing’. My reply is ‘Not at all’.

“I take great pride in knowing that we help someone to fulfil their last wish in life to pass away at home with their family around them.

“It does not matter how long you have known it is coming, it still hits you like a train, and I hope in some small way I help the families in this difficult time.”

Pam said: “I think if anyone has known someone who has died in hospital, there will be parts of it they won’t want to think about, and they may have preferred them to be at home. It’s a job for anyone who cares about people and wants to know their stories.

“Dying at home is the way forward, it should be something everyone should have a choice about.”

The recruitment event is at the Salvation Army Citadel on Psalter Lane, Brincliffe, from 9.30am to 3pm.

Only car drivers should apply, and 20-hour contracts are on offer. Call team leader Debbie Swann on 0114 2716010 for details.