This is what it takes: The physical side of palliative care

At our Hospice, we often talk about the amazing care our staff provide for our patients. Elizabeth Palfreman, our Head of Fundraising, recently said that what she admires about our staff is they ask “why not?” never “why?” when delivering our essential palliative care. When you examine what it takes to deliver this level of care every day, it’s crucial to understand just how much time, effort and physical exertion our staff commit to consistently delivering best-in-class care.

We caught up with Soulla Economou – one of our amazing Healthcare Assistants on our Inpatient Unit – to discover what a day in her life looks like and how she started working in palliative care. To illustrate just how physically demanding the role is for Soulla and her colleagues, we also tracked the number of steps she took over the course of a day’s work.

Love What You Do

“I started out in Mental Health work. It was really hard, but it’s where I discovered that helping and caring for people was really my calling,” says Soulla. “I always wanted to get into palliative care and I was immediately drawn to St John’s Hospice – I’m actually working towards getting my palliative nursing degree right now, which is exciting.”

There are certain assumptions around working in palliative care, but Soulla dispels these in a powerful way. “People ask me all the time why I do this job, they say “your job must be so hard”, but to be honest if you love what you do as I do… it’s not difficult at all,” says Soulla.  

“There’s something about the Hospice that is so incredibly special, being able to provide people with the honour of dying well. It’s a privilege – one I am proud to be part of –  and it’s the patients and their families that keep me coming in every single day with a smile on my face.”

A Day In Palliative Care

On the day we tracked Soulla she started work at 7:30 am. “I grabbed some food and a large coffee and reported to the IPU to get the handover from the night shift,” says Soulla. “We went around and checked in on our patients and asked what they wanted for breakfast. When I went into room 22, a lady [related to one of the patients] turned to me and said ‘You see? Every time you walk in he opens his eyes and perks up,’ and I said ‘That’s only because I’m loud!’ She laughed and said ‘No, it’s because you’re his angel.’ I smiled for about an hour after that. I just couldn’t stop myself; knowing I could make someone feel better.”

Soulla and her colleagues then went about providing patients with personal care until lunch. “If anyone needs help with food, we go in and eat with them so they don’t feel so uncomfortable,” says Soulla. “After lunch we go and talk with the patients and help them with any visitors. There was one patient who it turned out after weeks of being here spoke Greek and I said, ‘All this time you’ve been here and you never told me you spoke my language!’ She said ‘I just had to get comfortable. but I’m completely comfortable around you now.’ I spent about 20 minutes in there just chatting about her life and how she had learnt Greek. Knowing that patient trusted me and that she felt comfortable meant so much to me.”

As the afternoon went on many of the patients napped which allowed Soulla to do some essential paperwork. After dinner, Soulla went home at 8 pm – a full 12 and a half hours after she started her shift.

Over the course of the day Soulla clocked up an amazing 7,028 steps – and that doesn’t include her walk to work and home again. Soulla spent much of the day standing and moving around on her feet – but as you can tell, it’s something she’s all too happy to do.

This is just one of many parts of what it takes to provide the best in class palliative care. The services our Hospice offer are all free to our patients. But we need donations to continue to provide it. If you have been touched or inspired by Soulla’s story please click here to donate whatever you can, even a little can make a big difference. Thank you.

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