Volunteer story

Sue Chapman – 19 years of nursing at St Wilfrid’s

What is it like at St Wilfrid’s Hospice?

“The St Wilfrid’s ethos is all about treating a person as an individual and trying to tailor their care to meet their individual needs. The compassion we all share for those we support is really profound and you can never under estimate the impact it makes on people. We so often see the anxiety and stress when someone first arrives gradually falling away as the they grow to trust us and relax. Whether we are changing a pillow or taking in a drink just taking that extra minute to make a connection, to talk to that person about what makes them tick, makes all the difference.

When I came for my interview at the hospice I’d only been qualified for one year and I had never seen someone die, but as soon as I stepped through the doors I felt a spiritual sense of comfort and peace. I knew at once I really wanted to work there and was lucky enough to get the job. Treating the whole person holistically, considering their mental outlook and their social circumstances, not just the physical impact of their illness was how I was taught to nurse and it’s a fundamental principle in palliative care. It’s probably what has kept me fascinated and engaged with hospice nursing for so many years. The doctor and nurse relationships are more collaborative and the patient discussions much more open and honest too than what I’d experienced in hospitals. That level of communication is apparent throughout the multi-disciplinary team and makes it possible to provide the excellent standards of care we strive for.”

What has it been like working through Covid?

“I remember when the news first broke we quickly grasped the scale and seriousness of the threat this virus posed to the Hospice and to each of us as individuals with families.

The introduction of limiting access to visitors has been hardest. There was a guilt for many of our nurses in the early stages of the pandemic when we had to restrict visiting, however it was essential to maintain patient and staff safety. I found it particularly hard to deny grandparents the right to see their newborn grandchildren before they died as this is so primal and incredibly difficult for families and us to accept as normally we would actively encourage it. The PPE also took away our ability to smile warmly with patients and their loved ones, but we have all worked extra hard to express emotion with our eyes and eyebrows. I’m sure our foreheads are more muscular.

As infection control lead I developed my own ‘risk radar’ to ensure that practice and procedure was properly addressed, trying to keep patients and staff as safe as possible – especially with national guidance often shifting. We quickly adopted a ‘soldier on’ mentally and the support of each other became ever more important. I found personal strength through yoga and meditation which I would recommend to anyone.”

What will you reflect back on the most when looking back at your time with St Wilfrid’s?

“In my time at St Wilfrid’s we have seen ever more complex cancer treatments which have prolonged the life of our patients and as a consequence palliative care has become more complex too. Nowadays we also care for people with non-cancer disease, for example patients with dementia. Nursing patients with dementia is more difficult because their memory and communication abilities are failing, but it is intriguing trying to work out what someone is trying to say, particularly when their language often becomes metaphorical. For example, one patient would say she needed to feed the chickens and it took me a while to realize it was happening regularly around meal times. I think it was because she was responding to the memory of needing to feed her family and therefore once I could talk to her about her children and what they were doing now as independent adults she would settle. Several St Wilfrid’s nurses have had specialist Dementia training to meet this need. In general, the skill set of our workforce has risen, there are numerous competencies to be attained and the training involved in this is one of the things I’m proudest to have supported in my time here.

One of the great things about working at St Wilfrid’s of course is the humour. I can guarantee at least once per shift we laugh together and the patients enjoy good humour. The joy of working here in this environment is something very tangible, as everyone here appreciates the value of life needing to be enjoyed. Living life to the fullest right to the end – whatever that person’s capabilities are.”

We wish Sue the best for her next career challenge at St Barnabas Hospice and thank her for her tireless dedication to excellent patient care and all the fun times she helped provide the team too!

To see our latest career opportunities click here.


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