The changing face of care

Posted on: 01 March 2017 by 50connect editorial

Sally Monger Godfrey reflects on her 24 years as a Marie Curie nurse and the unique rewards of supporting people at end of life.

Sally Monger Godfrey

According to Marie Curie records, I started in 1993, but I know I’ve been doing Marie Curie shifts for longer, possibly through an agency.

From when I was about 12 I wanted to be a nurse. I left school and did A-levels at college, as part of a pre-hospital course, but this confirmed I wanted to be a nurse.

I trained at Charing Cross Hospital starting in 1973. I did an intensive care course and worked on a gastroenterology ward for a while, and then went into the community as a district nurse which I absolutely loved. It was so different nursing people in their own environment.

My work as a district nurse is what fuelled the idea to work at Marie Curie. I used to look after terminally ill people and would have to leave at 5 – and I just thought I wanted to give the ongoing care overnight.

It seemed wrong to leave them overnight where they might die on their own, that’s what made me start doing shifts with Marie Curie and keep doing it ever since.

We moved house and I became a Midwife in Epsom for a few years. However, I continued to work for Marie Curie as I feel so passionate about the role.

Lots of things have changed but the families are still the same. I can remember some of the earliest families I cared for. You never forget them, you drive past their house and remember being with them, and how it felt.

Even my nursing friends will say ‘I don’t know how you do that job’. But it’s not depressing or sad work, it’s very positive and rewarding, and you come out feeling happy that you have been able to help.

Just recently I looked after the mother of a consultant at a London hospital and he couldn’t believe that our skilled overnight care was available. I was there on her first night at home and I also happened to be there the night that she died.

He said to me: “I would not have known what to do without you, you just made it so much easier and she went really peacefully.”

You do make a difference to people. You make a difference to the end of their lives, which in many ways is just as important as the start of a life.

When I get home after a night shift, I go to bed and have a sleep, but I also do lots of physical activity in my time off – cycling, running, and dancing. Doing this job you have to look after yourself, and being physically fit helps.

When my children were younger, when you go home you get on with the school run and get back to your normal life, so you don’t forget about your night before, but you can leave it behind.

Every night is different; you just don’t know what you are going to or who you will be meeting. I always look forward to going to work as a Marie Curie nurse.

Being there when someone dies is where my expertise lies – it’s a time when I go into professional but very caring mode and know what needs to be done to ensure everything happens smoothly for the patient and for their family.

It feels quite natural to me to work in people’s homes and feeling that you have made a difference is fantastic.

What has changed over the years? Cancer treatments have advanced. I used to see far more deaths earlier on in the disease. We now nurse patients with other terminal illnesses and this has altered the type of patient we look after. What people can have in their homes has changed. The community is much quicker at providing the right equipment and medication and so we are able to offer good care at night without having to call out the GP service.

Death has not changed, though, and people will still choose to do things in their own way, even in their last moments. It is always different.

With my own family over the years, my children, have got used to me coming home and telling them a little bit about my night, often telling them that my lovely patient had died. So they’ve learned that life is precious and doesn’t last forever.

It came to light with one of my daughter’s boyfriend’s when his grandmother was dying. His family were frightened and unsure of what to do. My daughter told them to sit with her, talk to her and to hold her hand. This confidence really helped them through the difficult time.

It really came home to me as well when my Dad was poorly at home. The children were around his bed and they were just chatting away to him as if it was normal - keeping things normal for him. They did not want to go to their swimming lesson and spent the evening at his bedside. He died so peacefully in the early hours of the morning and the children were so pleased they had spent that last evening with their Granddad.

Marie Curie cares for people living with terminal illness, and their families, offering expert guidance and support to help them get the most from the time they have left. This March, support the Great Daffodil Appeal to help Marie Curie Nurses be there for more people who need them.

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