On 26th March, Gemma, KEHPCA’s VSO volunteer, embarked on a week long course at Nairobi Hospice, for palliative care for non health care professionals.  She tells us about her experience….

When I arrived at Nairobi Hospice, situated in Kenyatta National Hospital, I was greeted by a range of bubbly delegates, as the room filled up we shared our stories of why we were attending.  Some were from other Hospices (Eldoret and Coast), others had been personally touched by caring for someone with a life limiting illness, and some worked for NGO’s (Lady Hope Wellness Institute, Hope 4 Cancer Kids and Wahopnel Disability) and wanted to increase their skills to enable for them to carry out their role more effectively.  For me, it is my first time working in the palliative care sector in Kenya and I wanted to know more about the realities of care for people living with a life limiting illness.

The course soon started, I was pleased to find that the course was interactive, attention grabbing, and suited to everyone’s needs – a tough task considering the diversity of the group.  The tutors were exceptionally good at explaining medical aspects of palliative care in a jargon free way.  The sessions ranged from the practical aspects of caring for someone, e.g. how to use a bed pan, changing a bed with an individual in it, feeding etc.  For me, a person with no medical background or experience in caring for a person’s physical needs with a long term illness, I found this eye opening and an essential part of caring for someone that everyone should know.  I discovered the importance of mouth care, how to clean the mouths of people in various stages of responsiveness, and how to prevent bedsores and even how to clean a wound.  However, I was keen to learn more about the holistic aspects of palliative care….I did not need to wait long.

We moved on to the importance of communication and how to break bad news. I wondered to myself ‘how is it possible to tell someone and their family the worst possible news in a positive way?’ Jescah, the Nursing Officer and Training Coordinator illustrated the techniques that the staff at Nairobi Hospice use, and while the news is still life changing, it can be conveyed in a kind, sensitive manner that makes the news easier to digest, without withholding vital information, making the experience all the more bearable for both the individual and the family in coming to terms with the illness and the way they deal with it from then on.

Amongst other topics, the course covered symptom and pain management; the benefits of food, nutrition and physical exercise in boosting the immune system and maintaining wellbeing; exploring our personal attitudes to death; preparing individuals and their families for death & dying and how to help others cope in times of bereavement.

One of the highlights was to see the hospice being used at day care – a peer support group for those living with a life limiting illness.  It was inspiring to see how each supported each other and came together to share experiences but also have a good time together in good company.

As the course went on, more of the group told their stories of how they have been touched by losing a loved one, how they cared for them and the support that was or was not available from other sources at the time.  The realities of how many people are providing palliative care in their own homes began to emerge, and the need for more people to access support while providing informal palliative care became clear.  This course provided the essential skills to deliver such care, as well as providing coping mechanisms for carers.  I highly recommend this course to anyone who is from a non health care professional background with an interest in palliative care, I learnt far more than I ever thought, met a great group of people and am better placed to carry out my role at KEHPCA as an advocate for palliative care.

By Gemma James