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24 Deeply Honest Confessions From A Hospice Worker

It's honestly not all doom and gloom.

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1. Most hospices have at least one therapy pet that comes in to visit patients and comfort families.

St Columba's Hospice

Like Brodie, a Therapet at St. Columba's Hospice in Edinburgh. There are also therapy cats, and patients' pets are often allowed in for visits too. At times, even horses have been brought into hospices so their owners can say goodbye.

2. We help patients achieve their final wishes and goals.

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From arranging medical equipment so a patient can go on holiday, visiting a zoo, or phoning an airfield to book a patient on a skydive, our community nursing teams have seen and done it all, and we're always happy to help.

3. Plenty of our patients get to go home again.

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Everyone using our services has an incurable illness, but not everyone who comes to a hospice is going to die there. Sometimes people are admitted for a few days to help get their symptoms under control, then they go back home.

4. People often don't realise just how many people work at a typical hospice.

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"You work at a hospice? Oh, what's it like being a nurse?" Well, funnily enough we're not all nurses. Hospices employ social workers, bereavement counsellors, occupational therapists, art therapists, chaplains, and physiotherapists too.

5. We don't just care for people with cancer.

St Columba's Hospice

It's a myth that hospices = cancer. We care for anyone with a terminal illness, including degenerative conditions like Motor Neurone Disease. Our occupational therapists, physios, and social workers work hard to help MND patients adapt their homes and lives in order to stay independent for as long as possible.

6. And we look after young people too.

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People often think that hospices are the same as nursing homes for older people, but we actually care for people from the ages of 18 upwards. Under 18s and their families are cared for by specialist childrens' hospices.

7. And we do a lot of things to prolong people's lives.

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In the past, hospices just "made people comfortable." These days, we do blood transfusions and epidurals, give oxygen, anti-emetics, fluids, and promote quality of life. We don't just hand out pain medication and mop fevered brows.

8. People wince when we tell them what we do.

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To the extent that we sometimes put off telling people, or dodge the issue. The standard response is usually sort of a wince, then an awkward lull where people don’t know what to say. So you end up trying to explain that it's not all doom and gloom while also trying to get, say, your bikini line waxed.

9. We get a more than a little tired of people saying "oh, poor you, your job must be so sad."

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Hospices can be happy places too. We laugh and joke with patients, help them to maintain their independence, and arrange nice treats for them. We also work hard to minimise their pain and other symptoms so that they feel like themselves.

10. We also don't just sit around holding patients' hands all day long.

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In fact, we rarely do this at all, as we don't want to invade patients' space or treat them like invalids. Instead, we chat about the news and other everyday things. We try to help people feel normal rather than focusing on their illness.

11. We get tired and grumpy and fed up, just like anyone else.

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People often describe us as "angels", but that can be very hard to live up to. It's pretty easy to get burned out, tbh. Our job brings out both positive and negative parts of our personality, just like any other.

12. A huge part of a hospice's job is supporting bereaved and soon-to-be-bereaved families.

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Families often go through something called "anticipatory grief", where they struggle to come to terms with the fact their loved one won't get better. Our bereavement counsellors can support them through this. And we continue to offer support and counselling to families for up to a year after a loved one dies.

13. We do get upset (and cry) when people die.

St Columba's Hospice

We're only human after all. Some patients come to outpatient clinics and to our day hospice (with activities and specialists) for several months before being admitted. We build a close bond and miss them when they're gone.

14. But there is such a thing as a "good death".

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We feel like we've done our job well if our patient passes away in the place and manner they chose (many people want to die at home in their own bed). And, crucially, without pain. It make us feel better if we know we've achieved that.

15. We could write a book about what not to say to someone who has just been bereaved.

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"Oh well, she was a good age," "at least they're out of pain now," and the old fallback: "I know how you feel". Unfortunately, you probably don't. Just say "how are you?" instead, and let them answer honestly. Then just sit and listen.

16. We get yelled at more often than you'd think.

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Our community nurses visit people in their homes. They're often the first person a patient sees after being told that their illness is incurable, so emotions are often running high. We go out in pairs if we think we might walk into a volatile situation.

17. We're not that afraid of death or dying.

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Particularly nurses. If we were, we couldn’t do the job. And we’re all in the midst of dying, after all. Our job keeps us aware of mortality, we also know that there is good care available to people to keep them pain-free at the end of their lives.

18. Nurses work in close-knit teams, which help us to cope with the emotional situations we see each day.

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And our friendships often last a lifetime. It's always a relief when we come back to our team after a difficult time on the ward, or in someone's home. Having someone to talk to, share tea with, or just sigh at makes things much easier.

19. We don't tend to go to funerals.

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Although very occasionally a hospice social worker might go along as part of their official role, to support a family member who is going through a more complex form of grief than usual, or who has a difficult relationship with their family.

20. Different types of people have very different approaches to death.

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Some people are very accepting and calm, while others experience denial and believe that they'll recover, even though their prognosis doesn't support that. Denial can serve a protective purpose for a while, but we sometimes have to help people past it. If we don't, they might not make a will or settle their affairs.

21. We actually have a lot of fun.

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That might sound like an odd thing to say, but hospices are places of life, not death. We have wedding ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, and seasonal parties in hospices all the time, as well as poetry readings, and even comedy.

22. And we can be very daft at times.

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You do have to have a sense of humour to do this job. Obviously we don't tell hugely inappropriate jokes, but the patients appreciate it if we're funny, cheeky, candid, and have a laugh. Especially when we're, say, throwing them a stag do.

23. In fact, we feel like our work really highlights what's important in life.

St Columba's Hospice

At the end of the day, hospices really are amazing places. Everything superficial in life falls away and you get to the core of what's really important. And for each person, it might be something different, like family, love, art, or friendship.

This post was put together with the help of the dedicated staff at St. Columba's Hospice in Edinburgh. They're a registered charity who always need donations to fund their work. To support them, please click here.

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