It takes a certain kind of person to be an end of life nurse, according to Julie Davies, who has retired after 14 years on the frontline of St Luke’s services as one of our expert Clinical Nurse Specialists.
“You need to be able to cope emotionally and psychologically with this kind of work. There isn’t a happy outcome, but you can give people a peaceful death, and make sure their families are all right along the way,” reflects Julie, a familiar and comforting face for so many people both inside and outside the organisation. “You have to be empathetic, not just show sympathy.”
Palliative care has been her passion and vocation for as long as she can remember and it’s a choice she has never shied away from. Her first experience of caring for the dying was at the Trinity Hospice in her hometown of Blackpool where she nursed for several years.
“The best thing is about palliative care is having time to be with patients and their families and letting people know they are being listened to. Even on my busiest days here I would never make a patient feel that I am rushed for time. I feel privileged to be part of their journey.”
From Trinity, she spread her wings to take her experience out into the local community and the pressured environment of district nursing, where she continued her special interest in caring for people reaching the end of their lives.
Blackpool was home and she had brought up her three sons there, but when new love came calling in 2009 Julie decamped 325 miles to Plymouth to set up home with her husband, Barry.
That was also the year she first came to work at St Luke’s and she has never looked back. After spending nine months as part of the specialist unit team, she became a CNS, visiting patients in their own homes or care homes, going over and above to help manage their symptoms, make sure they are in the right place to receive the best care, and give support to their family members.
“That’s where I have been ever since, and I love my job. I work with a fabulous team in a good, supportive network and I have made a lot of friends here and good working relationships all over the organisation… everyone at St Luke’s has a role to play.”
Julie admits it hasn’t always been an easy job, and she has witnessed some changes over the years.
“We are never going to earn what the NHS pay, but you don’t take this job on for the money. You have to have the passion. It is sometimes difficult, but you push through together. I have loved working here.
“Years ago I think we supported patients from earlier in their journey and they came to be reliant on us for a longer time. People are a lot more poorly when they come to us now and it’s a bit of a juggling act. We have got more staff, but the role is becoming more demanding.”
The pandemic was one of the most challenging periods she can remember, and its legacy still remains.
“When Covid came it was terrible. It was very worrying. No one knew how it was going to affect everything.
“I’m proud that we went out and supported people in that situation when other services weren’t available to them. We had a lot of referrals coming through for very poorly people. It impacted on us as a team both physically and emotionally… it all filters down and has an impact on you. You found yourself asking why patients were not diagnosed earlier and why were we not involved earlier.”
In spite of her passion and drive, Julie has always recognised the importance of having “switch-offs” that take your mind away from the job and give you some down time.
“Mine have been my holidays. My husband and I have gone away four or five times a year to places like Greece, the Caribbean and the Maldives so I could recharge before coming back to work. We did sightseeing and city tours years ago, so now we just like to relax – swim, snorkel, eat, drink and be merry!
“I’ve learned that you don’t know what’s around the corner so you have to grab life and enjoy it while you can.”
Julie is definitely ready to wind down a bit and concentrate on other priorities in her life.
“I’ve worked since I was 11 – doing two paper rounds for my parents’ newsagent shop in Blackpool – and I was cleaning hotels aged 14… at 63 I want a little more time for me.”
She’ll also have more opportunities to be with her three children and five grandchildren.
“They’re all boys – including a new one born a few weeks ago who melts my heart. Some of them live in Portsmouth and some in Blackpool and I travel to see them. That’s another reason I’m retiring because I want more time with them and now I’ll be able to stay a bit longer instead of having to rush back for work.”
There may be fewer foreign holidays in future, but Julie has some other goals in the pipeline, including re-joining the Cheezifit exercise group and exploring Plymouth and Cornwall a bit more.
“After living here all this time, I haven’t actually been to the beach yet!”
It’s going to be hard to wrench herself away from St Luke’s, and although she officially retired this week, it’s going to be an unhurried exit for Julie, who will be around, on and off for a few more weeks.
“I’m going to do a little bit of bank work at St Luke’s to support the whole team while some new staff get settled in, so it will be a gradual retirement for me,” she says.