The Beautiful Journey of a Nurse: Touching Lives with Compassion
– Lt Col Lovely Antony (Retd), Kozhikode
As a small child, I dreamt of becoming a soldier, but a different calling tugged at my heartstrings as I grew older. I wanted to be a nurse, a beacon of hope and healing in people’s lives. This desire was ignited by the smiling faces of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation sisters working in our local hospital. Their unwavering warmth left an indelible mark on my soul.
A Calling to Serve: Nursing in the Army
In 1983, I embarked on my nursing journey by joining the Army, to eventually become a nursing officer. My initial experiences at the Malignant Disease Treatment Centre of the Armed Forces Medical College were profound. It was then that I first realized the transformative power of spending extra time with patients, by listening to their stories, and providing them with the compassionate care they so deeply deserved.
My path then led me to the Spinal Cord Injury Centre in Kirkee, Pune. Working with these resilient patients further enriched my sense of purpose. However, it wasn’t until 2000 that I underwent a truly transformative experience.
A Turning Point: Embracing Palliative Care
In Mumbai, I had the privilege of meeting Dr Luis Jose De Souza, a pivotal figure in my journey. He was the resource person for a Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) program on the ‘Role of Nurses in Palliative Care’ at the Institute of Naval Medicine. His words resonated with me at a profound level, altering my outlook, not only professionally but also personally (my inner self).
Dr Luis emphasized the need to look at palliative care as an opportunity for a new lease on life. These words illuminated to me that, as a nurse, I could make an indelible difference in someone’s life, even if it didn’t involve saving lives in the ‘conventional sense’.
A Nurse’s Passion: Bringing Comfort
My passion lies in helping patients find comfort and dignity throughout their journey in palliative care. During my community health clinical postings, I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous families as they navigate difficult times. In such situations, I always strive to remain positive, compassionate and provide the best possible care and also foster strong relationships with my patients and their loved ones.
A Story of Compassion: Devi Amma’s Pain
While in the middle of my data collection phase during my M. Phil thesis on ‘Stress Coping and Lived Experience of Caregivers of Cancer Patients on Palliative Care’ I met Ms Devi Amma (name changed) and her family.
Ms Devi Amma was battling carcinoma of the breast with liver and bone metastasis. Ms Vimala (name changed), her daughter began sharing with me the details of their distressing night. Devi Amma had endured severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and sleeplessness. Her moans of agony were heart-wrenching.
I decided to postpone the data collection and sat with Devi Amma, gently holding her hand. Despite Ms Vimala’s administration of the prescribed medications, Devi Amma’s pain persisted. Devi Amma’s inability to pass urine and stool due to the excruciating pain raised concerns. Upon examination, I discovered suprapubic fullness with dullness on percussion, suggesting bladder distension with overflow. I promptly contacted the home care palliative team for assistance.
A Nurse’s Impact: Relieving Pain and Bringing Joy
The team arrived and catheterized Devi Amma, and drained approximately 650 ml of urine. Her relief was palpable and her face radiating gratitude. Further discussions revealed her struggle with constipation, even after an administered enema. With her consent, I performed a digital evacuation which brought her immense relief. Her heartfelt words of blessing and gratitude filled the room, leaving everyone deeply moved.
A Bond Beyond Care: Devi Amma’s Family
The impact of those two interventions was profound in bringing happiness, comfort, and pain relief to Devi Amma. A strong bond had formed between her family and the palliative care team. I continued to visit and educate them to prevent constipation and promote good nutrition.
In July 2000, Devi Amma eventually left this world, surrounded by love. My bond with the family continued and her family even invited me to her daughter’s wedding, which I attended with my own family; a testament to the enduring bonds forged through compassionate care.
Nurturing the Next Generation: Spreading Compassion through teaching and advocacy
My commitment to palliative care extends beyond the bedside. As a nursing teacher, my goal is to instil the spirit of compassionate care in my students. For this, I actively take steps to keep myself updated and able to serve as a resource person for palliative care seminars, workshops, and conferences.
As a trainer, I want my students to witness the profound impact that palliative care has on patients and their families. My aim is to transform their careers and touch their hearts deeply, and motivate them to continue on this journey of providing comfort, dignity, and hope to those in need.
Together, we dream of creating a compassionate and supportive community that values the well-being of every patient in need, by spreading the message of palliative care to new frontiers. I cherish the smiles, blessings, and affection bestowed upon me by the patients and their families.
A Drop in the Sea of Palliative Care: Making a Difference
In the vast ocean of palliative care, I am deeply aware that I may be just a drop. It is however my sincere hope that this drop will also help those suffering from life-limiting illnesses lead more comfortable lives by finding realistic hope and be able to ultimately embrace their journey with dignity and inner peace.
I conclude with a poignant quote from Rupi Kaur, a reminder that, at the end of the day, it is love, human connection, and the impact we have on others that truly matter.
“Most importantly love,
Like it’s the only thing you know how
at the end of the day, all this
where you’re sitting
nothing even matters..
except love and human connection
who you loved
and how deeply you loved them
how you touched the people around you
and how much you gave them
May we remember this always”
About the Author:
Lt Col Lovely Antony (Retd) wears several hats.. She is a Professor at the National Hospital College of Nursing, Kozhikode, Kerala; a National Mentor in the Community Health Officer Mentoring Project of NHSRC, Govt of India, in collaboration with Christian Medical College, Vellore; and also a Mentor for the Master Fellowship in Palliative Care for Institute of Palliative Medicine, Kozhikode, Kerala (WHO collaborating centre).
Lt Col Lovely Antony (Retd) is also a reviewer for the Indian Journal of Palliative Care.