Hospice caregiving: An ancillary healthcare worker’s account

More than 125 full-time staff make up HospiceWits’ cavalry of care – these include doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and spiritual counselors. HospiceWits is exceedingly grateful to every healthcare worker and volunteer that is responsible for assisting us in caring for patients who are terminally ill. These selfless people have spent years gaining experience, and are central to providing quality care to the patients who so direly need it.

If you’ve ever wondered about getting involved with an organisation like HospiceWits, please read on, and learn from one of our workers on the frontline. Shafiq Kara gives a rousing first-hand account of what it is like to provide care to the elderly, terminally ill and disabled.

Some reflections of good caregiving learnt from my ancillary healthcare worker training at the Palliative Care HospiceWits Training Centre and my volunteer service at HospiceWits, Houghton

Shafiq Kara

Providing care to elderly, terminally ill or disabled family members is more of a calling than an actual career. It is a selfless vocation, which demands both training and self-preparation. Daily activities range from bathing, feeding, grooming, cleaning and taking medicine, to offering companionship and overseeing physical health, emotional and safety needs. Since not everyone is cut out for such responsibilities, it requires one to give their best to be effective. While I do have intensive training from the HospiceWits Training Centre, and have gained hands-on experience with actual patients at the Houghton hospice facility in Johannesburg, I feel a truly entrusted caregiver should expand their knowledge and skillset to carry out their daily duties. From my personal life experience, I have read training manuals on the holistic approach of caregiving and have had the honour to successfully complete my first aid level 1, 2, 3 and firefighter courses from the National First Aid Academy.

From my training I have learned that a good caregiver must be empathetic and compassionate to foster a genuine relationship with the patient. Being a family member to them makes them feel secure and nurtured, especially when the patient has been neglected by his/her own family. Some accept this harsh, miserable reality, but deep inside it is really agonizing. You can start by asking about their interests, sharing stories, or engaging in certain activities together, such as watching a particular show or listening to music. Upon relating to them, they will start to open up, and it can make visits more enjoyable for both parties.

It may sound too cliché, but patience is a virtue. This holds true especially in the caregiving career. Your patience will be tested to the edge, even to the point of burnout – which can be expected when taking care of the elderly, disabled or terminally ill persons. Such strenuous demands require a certain fortitude, and it takes a very special kind of person to choose this line of work as a career. As a good caregiver, I will tell you that planning ahead is key to keeping your sanity. Try setting some time aside each week for future planning. By knowing everything about your client – from medical condition to background – you will be able to get an idea on how to deal with them with composure, and provide the needed care and support.

Due to age, disability and illness a patient may have the tendency to communicate and comprehend poorly, which is why they are looking for someone to assist them in the first place. An effective caregiver can explain freely and conveniently how things are supposed to be done. Some clients may be harder to deal with, but do not forget that they have illnesses that impair them, and they do not possess the vigor they used to have.

Since I will be spending ample amounts of time with them, I should be able to assist in keeping them calm and comfortable. If they have relatives, I have to keep them updated by keeping the lines of communication open about any changes in their relative’s care plan or condition. Problem-solving is a vital part of providing care to another person, and requires excellent communication skills, as well as being a good team player – involving all the necessary parties to make the right decisions is key to providing good care. Recording and reporting are also very important for the good caregiver.

Dependability is a combination of many qualities that a caregiver must possess, but in the real world, it is not as ideally fancy as it may seem. While you know at this point that taking care of a patient will be demanding, if you do not have the passion to do it for a long time, you will eventually lose motivation and the will to proceed further. You need to bear in mind that these needs are not similar to someone who has a fever or the flu, so make sure you are prepared to do this long-term. Be organised, polite, punctual, trustworthy, attentive, selfless, professional, be clean, manage your time well, be observant and have a passion for the work. Look after yourself so you are able to look after others.

The future is uncertain, and, as a caregiver, I might have to deal with circumstances that are way beyond my control at certain times. It may involve doing something out of the box, or could be purely instinctive. The important thing here is discernment. I must be perceptive and be able to judge a situation accordingly to execute proper action. After a period of getting to know the patient, a good caregiver should be able to pick up on what is really happening, and use all the knowledge and training acquired to execute their role as a caregiver. This knowledge is gained by learning about the human body, anatomy and physiology, about common diseases, about treatment, about care, nutrition, hygiene, first aid, CPR, communication, technical medical and health terminology. Good caregivers must also learn about the equipment and tools used for care and must be able to ask for help from medical professionals and team members when required. I refer to my notes and manual, and educate myself to strive to give my best to all those that I serve, to ease their life journey and create holistically healthy people and communities.

The important part is to always read, watch video clips on caregiving, take more courses, and continuously educate and empower yourself about health and the human body. I try to be a better person as an individual and practice my values, morals and ethics to serve and become the best caregiver one would want to have by their side as an elderly, disabled or terminally ill person. I want to teach my peers and those I may assist to become future caregivers by leading by example.