The 16th episode of Our Voices introduces Sarah, a Critical Care Nurse from Jamaica who moved to the UK along with her 16-year-old daughter 2 years ago. The desire to pursue a doctorate in nursing encouraged her to make the move, she had previously spent 17 years working as a nurse in her home country.
One of the striking elements of Sarah’s story relates to the number of cultural adjustments she has been required to make while working in the NHS. While caring for an elderly patient whose condition suddenly worsened, she learnt that part of a nurse’s duty in the UK was to prepare patients for death when it was deemed that there was no other option. This was something she had not done while working in Jamaica. As a result, she found it difficult to deal with her patient’s eventual death. This was exacerbated by the fact that the patient had been isolated during her final moments: no family had come to visit her. As someone who had come to a foreign country with only her teenage daughter, not having a family network to provide support was something she could relate to.
Sarah’s feelings of loneliness and vulnerability began to intensify once the global pandemic began and she realised that she would not be able to travel home for the foreseeable future. She describes crying at work in front of her colleagues, who all supported her and communicated their own sorrows and sacrifices that the pandemic had forced upon them. It was at that point that she realised that she was not alone. Everyone had their own challenges to face and being there to offer mutual support would be paramount.
Yet Sarah’s struggles became even more difficult when a patient she had developed a strong bond with suddenly went into cardiac arrest. She relates how only minutes before he had been looking healthy and bright. His wife had just rung to speak to him and he’d said that he would call her back tomorrow. That opportunity would never come as he passed away that very day. Sarah brought this experience home with her: “I went home, I couldn’t sleep…I was not OK.”
Once again, Sarah had had to witness a patient pass away without his family being present to care for him and to offer him support: “It wasn’t fair”, she says. Wracked with self-recrimination, she wonders whether she could have at least encouraged her patient to speak to his wife that day so they would have had one last conversation: “What else could I have done differently?” she asks herself.
Dealing with the trauma of watching people she has cared for pass away is something that has proved a genuine struggle for Sarah but she talks about an outlet that has provided some form of release. Sarah reveals that she writes about her experiences and she recites a poem that she wrote in honour of her patient, which includes these words: “We did our best, I still want to do so much more. Your beautiful life, death is not worthy of.” Doing her utmost, yet still demanding more: that is a symbol of Sarah’s devotion to her profession.
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