Palliative care : Putting on a brave face

Harriet is a palliative care nurse.  She provides medical and phsychological care to the incurable. Everyday she visits a woman in her 40’s who has a large facial cancer for 18 years that is now killing her. Her family have left her, neighbours and friends have shunned her and she is tended by her elderly father who works to provide for them.  Until Harriet and her team came to visit her this woman was alone. Now they clean her tumour, give her medicine to stop the pain, provide social contact and emotional care. This womans life has changed from sadness to happiness, from exclusion to inclusion from despair to acceptance. By visiting her everyday, the locals also recongised she did matter, that it is worth caring for someone, that you can interact and treat the ill and they are to be valued. Harriet has changed perceptions and turned this woman’s life around.

When she leaves in 3 weeks, Harriet worries about her other patients . Togo has no pallilative care , no drugs for the dying, or the social acceptance that they need care and inclusion. People are expected to be strong, to put on a brave face, whatever they are going through, there is no one they can tell thier agonies, worries and fears to. But the Mercyships team are sowing the seeds of a new approach that is significant in reducing suffering.

It’s a tough job for a young woman, Harriet ( 28) often feels inadequate, but she does feel she’s getting somewhere with individuals, thier families and among the day volunteers in Togo who see this work in action, sheds a light on what the dying are going through and changing attitudes.

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