What is your role?
“I work as a nurse in the Nightingale Macmillan Unit (NMU) and so I help provide palliative care, which is caring for patients with really advanced illnesses. It doesn’t always just mean caring for people at the end of their lives but this is an element of the care.
“The main part of the care I provide is personal care. That could be giving medication or pain relief for patients and changing dressings. A big skill is communication because, given the nature of the patients we see, they and their loved ones are dealing with some very big emotions. Many patients and relatives feel they want to share this so we make time to sit and talk and listen.
There are other aspects, too, like after death care, known as last offices, which is very important, sensitive work.”
Why did you want to do this job?
“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse and I first started working in a nursing home at 16. I’ve been qualified for 10 years and I’ve worked in a few areas, like the liver ward. I’ve worked with people without choices, people fighting for life. People with drink problems and addictions and here, in the Nightingale Macmillan Unit, people with cancers.
“This unit is what I live and breathe for. They make it possible for you to go the extra mile. A lot of people who work here have known someone close to them who has gone through cancer, friends or relatives. So in dealing with that, they learn how to help patients and their families. But also each other; we talk to each other a lot and help each other through emotional aspects to the job. There are a lot of teaching sessions given by doctors too and everyone needs everyone else. Consultants will take your hand when you need them to and help you but they know they couldn’t do their jobs without you.
“If I have managed to make someone who is dying smile then I’ve done my job well. Because imagine that – before I’ve left the door for the day I’ve put a smile on the face of someone facing death. That’s my aim, always.”
What do you like about working at Derby Teaching Hospitals particularly?
“I think it’s clear that we are a forward-thinking hospital, that we are finding creative ways to make the best of a challenging situation. By that I mean the funding difficulties, which all hospitals have. But at Derby we are coming up with new ways all the time to try and offer the best quality we can despite whatever’s happening to the budget.”
Why did you decide to take part in the programme?
“I was drawn into it quite slowly, really. The first involvement I had was when the crew were doing some filming in the unit and I was carrying out some observations on one of the patients, Glynn, who had lung cancer and was being filmed already by the team. But I started to talk to the producers and think about the benefits of the programme.
“I feel, really, like a lot of people have a false perception of the work we do at the Nightingale Macmillan Unit. People say things to me like, do we give patients morphine at the end of their lives? No, we don’t. People think we give drug cocktails at the end: no we don’t. And a lot of people think the whole place is dark and dingy and depressing and alright, I do find myself in tears on a lot of days. But do you know what? I find myself laughing more often.
“I saw this as an opportunity to show how we manage to make this place a really positive place to be.
“And at the time the crew arrived, it was a really difficult period. There had been quite a few young deaths, people in their thirties or forties. My granddad, too, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and my best friend, who was, again, in her thirties, had developed breast cancer. It was a really emotional time and I felt really strongly that I wanted to help capture this in the programme, that it might inspire or help people who were watching.
“I wanted people to know how much we care and that if anything ever happened to them I want people to know there is somewhere safe where caring people will look after them.”
How was it working with the camera and crew?
“Actually, a lot of the time I didn’t notice it too much. But at work it’s like I put my uniform on – put my Batman cape on – and become a nurse, completely play that role. So a lot of the time they were in the background and I could forget they were there. Some of the conversations they captured were ones I was having with colleagues and it was a real one-shot, right place, right time thing. But that’s their skill, I suppose. None of it was stage-managed.”
How do you think viewers will react to the programme – especially the parts you appear in?
“I think people will be possibly surprised when they see a man dying from lung cancer smoking in hospital. But it is important to realise that this is a no smoking hospital and the Nightingale Macmillan Unit does not promote it. But by the time people get here there’s no further treatment for their disease. They’re not going home so there’s no point in not smoking and if they want to smoke, they will. So you offer them a sanctioned place to do it, away from other patients and visitors. I mean, what we do here is make people as comfortable as possible. Cancer takes everything from you. It destroys relationships, it breaks bonds, it takes your health in pieces, one after another, it takes away the personality you were. So if having a cigarette makes a person with cancer feel better for five minutes, it’s worth it. It’s one thing they can choose to do; all other choices have been taken away.”
What do you hope people will take away from watching the programme?
“That nurses do get emotional. It’s just impossible not to; you give so much of yourself and everyone who comes in is someone to get to know but also someone who is going to die.
“You try and be a professional and be strong but sometimes, when you’re with someone young, a young mum or dad, and they are so grateful that you can keep their children occupied by playing with them and they know they’re going to die and they know they’re going to leave everything they know and everyone they love behind, sometimes that emotion just comes through right in front of the patient.
“But then they see how much you care, that you’re human and in their last days they want to be cared for by real people.”