Her chance to do something special

Contributed by: Yang Juan

Palliative care nurse Yang Juan is grateful for the opportunity to bring her patients relief from their suffering in their last days.

When Miss Yang Juan joined Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) as a palliative care nurse at the start of this year, many of her friends asked her why she chose such an apparently depressing job.

But dealing with death has made Miss Yang, 31, a more cheerful person instead.

“My work makes me appreciate life more and I learnt to be happy with the little blessings in life,” she said.

Miss Yang joined PCC’s CanHOPE after seven years of working in the general medical and surgical ward at a public hospital.

Her role there was to help keep patients alive and well, but she found that everything was “very rushed” and she did not have much time to spend with individual patients.

In palliative care, she gets to spend a lot of time with patients, something she enjoys.

“We listen to what the patients need or what they are worried about and we try to help them in whatever way we can,” said Miss Yang. “I feel that this is something special that I am doing for them.”

In a normal work day, Miss Yang would follow a palliative care consultant to see both inpatients in Parkway hospitals, as well as outpatients at the clinic.

At times, she would also conduct home visits for patients who are too weak to leave their homes.

“We not only care for the patient, but the patient’s family as well. It can be very stressful for them because they are the main caregivers and they experience a lot of the stress in taking care of their dying relative,” she said.

Miss Yang, who graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic in 2007 and recently obtained a bachelor of nursing from Curtin University, educates patients’ family members on death, the process of dying and also how a patient changes when in the palliative stage.

“For some people, it is still a taboo to talk about death. But because they do not want to talk about it, they don’t know what to do when a person is dying. They feel helpless,” she said.

“We educate them to prepare them for the symptoms and what will happen to their loved ones as their condition deteriorates. If they understand the process, I think they won’t fear it as much.”

Beyond caring for her patient’s physical well-being, Miss Yang also looks after them emotionally.

There was one particular case which Miss Yang found deeply memorable. A cancer patient’s condition had turned critical but the husband was not willing to accept her prognosis. “He wanted to try different treatments to keep her alive,” she recalled.

“We helped him to understand that he had to let her go. He slowly understood that he was just prolonging his wife’s suffering.”

Miss Yang added: “The love they had shown each other made me feel I should appreciate my health, my family and my friends more. I learned that life is meaningful and it reminded me that it will end one day. When, we do not know, so I’d better make use of the time I have here.”

At the patient’s funeral, which Miss Yang attended, she was very moved by a PowerPoint presentation that the husband had put together to celebrate his wife’s whole meaningful lifetime.

“I chat with my family about death and I feel that it is important to have a good death. Just as we celebrate a person’s birth, we should also celebrate death as the person is going to a better place.”

Miss Yang has no regrets making the switch to palliative care.

“At least I am with the patients to the end of their days and I can bring them relief from suffering and make them comfortable before they go,” she said. “I am very grateful to be a palliative care nurse.”

By Ben Tan

TAGS cancer nurse, experience with cancer patient