I am a nurse practitioner. For two years, I worked for a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Southern Africa. With referrals from hospitals, clinics, private doctors, lay care workers [carers], and other individuals, we visited people in their homes when they were ill. Every day was a challenge, because I never knew what I would have to deal with. The goal of our team was to provide palliative, holistic care to everyone we visited, which meant we tried to relieve suffering, whether psychosocial, environmental, physical, or spiritual.
Many of the people I visited did not have the wherewithal to write their own stories, so I will be their voice. These people and their families deeply touched me and remain etched in my mind. As a candle-lit Turkish lantern illuminated an uncertain pathway for Florence Nightingale, I offer these narratives to help light the way for others who have also chosen the noble profession of nursing.
An 86-year-old gentleman who lives in the Western Cape, South Africa, has been a patient of ours for the past year. A man of great dignity and pride, he is also incorrigible!
He has cancer that has spread to multiple parts of his body and regularly takes oral morphine syrup for pain relief. He has refused further treatment and is happy to carry on his life without the discomfort of chemotherapy and radiation. He stays with his daughter and grandchildren in a small house. He speaks with a deep, gruff voice, has only two front teeth remaining, and has a ready smile and quip whenever I visit.
Dressed smartly, he walks about the streets of the township with a knobkerrie, a wooden walking stick that has a bulbous top, making him look almost regal. A leopard-skin cowboy hat, broad black belt, and jeans are his favourite outfit. On special days, he adds either a rather worn tweed or scuffed-leather jacket.
This gentleman loves to sit on an empty paint drum outside his house to soak up the sun. He also has a spare drum, which I have been invited to sit upon on many a visit—a privilege. Catch a glimpse of him, and one might imagine that he is a wise tribal elder.
I saw him walking in the road just the other day, looking rather handsome—indeed, like a cowboy. He even walks like one now that he has to wear adult nappies due to the disease.
Today, he made me realise that life and its small pleasures never have to end. He has found a girlfriend in another part of the township and walks to her place every day. He doesn’t carry his morphine with him, but rather a flask of Sedgwick’s Old Brown Sherry, which he says is much better than the medicine! His daughter is frantic because she does not know where the girlfriend lives or how she will find her father if he gets into trouble. She has even tried to lock him in the house when she goes to work, but he climbs out the window!
We shall find out where the girlfriend lives and let his daughter know so she does not worry. Today, he had a glint in his eye and a spring in his step. He is happy and has made us smile, too. A rebel at 86, he is living life and enjoying every moment!
Cindy Hatchett, MSc, RN, RM, was born in Liverpool, England, and has also lived in Australia, Borneo, and South Africa. She has been a member of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International since 2007.