This Life

Liz Rogers describes how her dying husband met with an uncompassionate response from a nurse

When my precious husband Charlie became terminally ill with cancer, some medical staff did not treat us compassionately. I was strong and could deal with it, but Charlie was weak and ill, and he had no strength left to oppose these callous people.

One in particular, a nurse from the medical centre, was very insensitive. At first we welcomed her, but her manner soon struck us as patronising and often rude. Jane had cold eyes and her voice always managed to express blame. Every sentence was a question, every look was disapproval. She was more like a stern headmistress than a nurse.

One afternoon, Jane arrived to fill in a form. Charlie had slipped down the bed with weakness. He asked her for help saying, “Could you lift me on the pillow, nurse?” She was sitting on our bed signing the form. She looked at him with disdain and said: “Oh, no.”

I was shocked and disgusted. Anybody would have helped him at that moment. Springing forward like a lioness protecting her cub, I said: “Is that all you want Charl?” I knew how to lift a patient and helped Charlie back into a comfortable position.

The next day, Jane phoned and talked down to me. I hissed: “You wouldn’t even help my husband – I had to.” She replied: “That was your choice.” I told her I had no choice but to help my husband.

Jane told social services I was upset and asked them to visit me. Our social worker Dave came and I told him to write down all the complaints we had. I told him I wasn’t upset but angry. I refused to have her in my home again. I told Dave there was only one good nurse in the medical centre and that was Debbie – a lovely person who always helped us. She brought a soothing atmosphere into the house. Now, she was an angel.

The kind night nurse knew Charlie would die within hours. She put me in a comfy chair by his bedside, covered me in a duvet and told me Charlie’s circulation was breaking down. Her eyes and hands were tender with Charlie and myself. Charlie and I kissed, and told each other “I love you”. Then as he drifted asleep my tired body succumbed to sleep too.

Next morning when I awoke I knew Charlie was dead. It was dawn and the room felt empty. Charlie’s eyes were slightly open and on his lips was a gentle smile. I phoned the medical centre and Jane came to collect the medical equipment. She said to me abruptly “What are you doing standing there? Hadn’t you better ring the funeral directors?” Then she swept out, instructing me to return the morphine to the chemist.

The funeral directors discreetly and respectfully removed Charlie’s body. They left a rose in the bed, so I wouldn’t find it empty. I was deeply grateful.

I felt battered and bruised by some medical people during Charlie’s illness but the few who respected us helped enormously.

All names other than Charlie have been changed, including the author’s

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