“That’s tough,” or “that’s so depressing,” are words you may come across when you tell people that you want to be a palliative care nurse.

People who decide to be palliative care nurses find that, rather than being depressing or sad, it’s rewarding to see a smiling face on a patient despite suffering from a condition that is hard to cure. Like everything else, it’s not perfect, and certainly not for everyone as sometimes there are frustrating days and more patients than you have hours. Nevertheless, the rewards outweigh the challenges. It’s amazing to be able to ease someone’s pain enough so they can enjoy their time left. The purpose of palliative care is not to effect cure of diseases but to improve the quality of life of persons with life threatening illnesses.

Being in the medical profession and seeing someone suffering in pain with limited ability to administer the essential medicine to relieve the pain can take a toll on you in more ways than one. This can be seen in Salome Njeru’s story.

Salome works at Mwingi sub county hospital, which is located along the Nairobi-Garissa road about 200 km from Nairobi city.  Several of the patients coming to the hospital are being brought in with advanced chronic illnesses and end up suffering and dying in pain. The nearest palliative care unit that the patients can access is in Kitui which is about 100km from the hospital.

Salome was called by a patient to go and help his father who was discharged from the hospital and he was in a lot of pain at home. On reaching the home, she found the patients’ father with a prescription of brufen and tramadol tablets which were not adequately controlling his pain. Salome noticed the discomfort and called the doctor in charge for advice on what to do next hoping there was a better solution for the patient. To her dismay the doctor explained to her that there was nothing else to be done other than reassuring the patient and the family.

In that instant Salome felt as if her heart was being ripped to shreds. She personally felt pain knowing that there was nothing she could do in her power to help the patient who was lying down in agonizing pain.

Due to this encounter Salome felt compelled to undergo the higher diploma in palliative care course offered at the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) in Nairobi. She is currently doing her clinical placement and mentorship at The Machakos Hospital (level 5) Palliative Care Unit.

The joy from palliative care comes out throughout the time spent with patients. When they can move from one stage to another, when they can ask for help and get it, when they can talk openly about what they want and what they can do.

“The palliative care team helped us cope with the illness of our father from the time of diagnosis and even after his demise.” said a patient to Salome.

Palliative care is and should be everyone’s business.


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