As a nurses’ aide in the 1970’s, Theresa met a woman dying from breast cancer. Her chest was an open wound that had a foul odor. Because of the odor no one wanted to go in her room. Even the nurses spent only the time needed to give medication and make dressing changes.
In the 1970’s little was known about pain management and fears of addiction and over-dosing kept terminally ill patients in constant pain. Theresa saw this woman’s pain and knew not enough was being done. She was also intensely alone as her only visitors, two ladies from her church eventually stopped coming. As Theresa spent time with her – she mostly just listened with an open heart.
Christmas arrived and Theresa had four days off. She knew that this woman whom she cared about so deeply would die while she was gone. To her dismay, she was still alive when Theresa returned. Thrilled, Theresa hurried to see her to give her one last smile. When she returned ten minutes later, the woman had died.
In her heart, Theresa knew the woman had waited for her. It was only later that she came to understand. She waited because Theresa would be the one to wash her body with reverence and treat her remains with honour and respect…it couldn’t just be anyone. The impact of this relationship always stayed with Theresa.
Theresa became an RN eventually finding her way into psychiatric nursing, becoming a head nurse. She valued this job over surgical nursing as it gave her a chance to communicate with her patients, to get to know and interact with them as whole people. In addition she learned invaluable communication, group and administrative skills.
What stayed with Theresa was how end-of-life patients were often treated without dignity, being placed at the end of the hall, having their requests to stop treatment ignored, and not having their pain properly addressed.
After retiring from nursing, Theresa returned to her home town of Port Alberni. Hearing about the Alberni Valley Hospice Society, she took the hospice training course. The philosophy of end-of-life care that she so intuitively longed for in nursing was finally found.
Theresa was eventually hired as the Hospice Coordinator. “I meet wonderful, courageous people every day at Ty Watson House and in the community where the majority of our clients reside. “I am a witness to pain and suffering every day. I think it is important that people know that their pain and suffering matters…that they matter. It is not something to be ashamed of…it often cannot be fixed…it just is and it frequently brings out the best in people. As a constant source of awe, amazement, wonder and inspiration for me, I am truly humbled to work with those who are embarking on their final journey.”