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Meet the Night Nurse helping families cope when a loved one is dying

Monday, 11th September, 2017 9:27pm

Meet the Night Nurse helping families cope when a loved one is dying

26 New Catriona Murphy 1.jpg

"I trained in Liverpool in general nursing and then spent six years specialising in Paediatrics in Great Ormond Street. I moved back to Ireland in 1996 and started working in Our Lady Of Lourdes in Drogheda on the Paediatric Floor. Paediatrics and family-centred care were always my first interests. I have been studying on/off and nursing for 32 years now.
I first encountered the Irish Cancer Society when my dad’s family went through a very sad time losing both his brother and sister only nine days apart in 2007 to 2008. That was when I first met a Night Nurse. I saw how supportive a role this could be and how it helped families to maintain a calm and relaxed atmosphere for their sick relative.

Families have to cope with an awful lot when a loved one is dying. It is a very sad time and people want to fulfil their loved one's wishes to be pain free and die at home. We work very closely with the specialist palliative home care teams in each county - including the patient’s GP and consultants. It is a team effort. I work with the Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Cavan teams - mainly though in Louth and Meath. End of life care is challenging for everyone involved. Families tell us that the Night Nurse service is invaluable because it eases the anxiety regarding symptom and medication management and the care needs of the patient during their final days - particularly so at night.

I started working with the Irish Cancer Society in May 2008. We have an e-learning hub where we can progress our training and we also meet with our manager and other nurses on regional support group days. It's good to meet colleagues and exchange experiences and information.
It's an on call service. I give my availability to work to the Night Nursing administrative team on a weekly basis.

Patients are referred from their GP, Public Health Nurse, Hospital or Palliative Home Care Teams. When referrals come in, a Society staff member rings me with the name, address, telephone number and diagnosis. I get a full detailed handover later from whomever referred the patient and directions to their home. I usually work from 11pm to 7am three nights a week.
My job is about delivering holistic individualised end of life care. The patient is my priority, but I also help support and educate the family carers and ease their anxieties. I have met so many fantastic caring people over the past 10 years and the men are equally as good as the women.
You nearly become part of the family - especially if you have been with them for a few nights.

People are entitled to 10 nights of nursing free and the palliative care teams closely monitor the patient's and family needs so that those nights are offered during those final days. There is a huge team of people working on this service and a lot of background administration.
My first night involves introducing myself to the patient and their family and listening attentively to their wishes and concerns. I assess the patient's care needs. Those needs can and do change, so close observation and monitoring is part of my role. The family are still the main carers and our job is to support them. All care is discussed in detail at every stage and honesty is vital.

It is a very sensitive and emotive time for the patient and their families. I give family members practical tips - from positioning the patient to removing heavy bed covers if the patient is too warm or having difficulty breathing and ventilating the room on sunny days or humid nights - the little comfort measures.
It's not the easiest job, but it is very rewarding. There can be plenty of laughter also as people reminisce about old times and share stories.
Getting used to working nights was harder when my girls were younger. I used to get home, get them up and out to school and I had a 'no housework' rule - straight to bed with me. Luckily, I live in a quiet rural area and I swear by blackout blinds. I tend to get six hours sleep during the day before getting up to tackle housework and school pick ups. It's not an ideal amount of sleep, but I rest for an hour or two in the evening if needs be.
I always remain professional, but of course I shed tears when someone passes. I go to funerals and that is difficult, but the day that I don’t feel completely involved in what I do is the day that I should get out of the job.

In my spare time, I love walking and dancing - jiving is great fun. The girls keep me busy and I have a great circle of friends.
What I love most about my job is that I have the time to deliver nursing care in the best setting of all - the patient’s home. I often think that midwives get to be there when babies open their eyes and we night nurses get to be there when someone closes their eyes for the final time. It is a huge privilege.
The downsides are that you do inevitably get emotionally involved with both patients and their families, but it is very rewarding when the patient gets to remain at home and has comfortable and restful nights and I hear a little snoring coming from the bedrooms of family members too! Most importantly, they get their wish to pass away peacefully at home surrounded by their loved ones.
We nurses feel very valued and supported by both The Irish Cancer Society and the families that we work with. This service and the many others offered would simply not be possible without the fundraising monies raised by volunteers who support events like the Pink Ribbon Walk.”

Find information about the Irish Cancer Society's support services at or FreeFone 1800 200 700.
The Boyne Valley Pink Ribbon Walk takes place at 2pm in Kells on Sunday October 1st. Pick up an entry form in local shops and businesses, sign up at participating Bank of Ireland branches in Drogheda, Dundalk, Ardee, Dunleer, Kells, Navan, Athboy, Oldcastle, Trim, Enfield, Dunshaughlin, Ashbourne, Ratoath and Dunboyne or register online at

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