Caring for elderly a calling for nurses

There has to be a reason why people stick to a job that is sometimes difficult – and stick to it for decades.

This is the case for some of the carers who work for Fish Hoek Home Nursing who have turned their jobs into a calling.

“Every day when I go home I know I have made a difference and that’s a good feeling. We all get that. It makes getting up and going to work worthwhile,” said nursing manager Sister Heather Storer.

It was 25 years ago when the Fish Hoek town council – in the days when Fish Hoek was its own municipality and not part of Cape Town – decided that there was a need to care for older people at home.

People who did not need to be in frail care, but who were not coping on their own in their homes. This was the start of a community service which has grown from being a small organisation in Fish Hoek to one which serves the community from Kirstenhof and Tokai south towards Cape Point and grown from having two registered nursing sisters and six home carers to having five nursing sisters and 110 carers.

The non-profit organisation at first started at the home of Gail Rail, the first nursing manager, moving to a house in Kommetjie Road which was sold, and in 2004 to their more central Fish Hoek premises, in the aptly named Central Road.

And the hub of this building has to be Sister Storer’s office whose walls are edge to edge with whiteboards, neatly divided into complex grids linking up nurses, clients and weeks.

Wouldn’t it be easier on a computer, people often ask her. Not a bit, she says, gesturing around the office. Only by putting herself in the centre of these boards can she see everything at once and plan the complicated schedules.

And it is complicated, with nursing aids coming from as far as Retreat, Ocean View and Masiphumelele, with some clients wanting help only a few hours a week for a short time, to others wanting full-time aid.

The range of people they care for has also expanded, including post-operative or wound care, care for the physically and mentally challenged, as well as infant and child care.

“At one time we had nine babies – two sets of triplets and newborns,” said Sister Storer.

Among their clients are paraplegics who are professionals, working at their jobs, but needing help.

They look after people who need just that small bit of help so that they can continue living at home.

As one thankful client wrote about her mother: “Without your services she would never have been able to continue living in the home she loved so much and we will always be grateful to you for that.”

Fish Hoek Home Nursing carers are also employed in retirement complexes such as Peers Village, Noordhoek Manor, The St James and Cle du Cap, some employed by the complexes and some privately employed by the clients or the clients’ families.

They tailor their services both according to the need or what people can afford.

“It is often a financial thing,” said Sister Storer. “Where possible people might need day and night nursing but can’t afford that, so sometimes we would do days and the families take over at night, or just three mornings a week – the families just have to come to the party and assist.”

They are also there to fill in the gaps, working with other service organisations such as St Luke’s which specialises in palliative counselling and medication, or emergency services such as the local Cape Medical Response (CMR).

“We care for our terminal clients hand in glove with St Luke’s,” said Sister Storer.

They also step in after medical emergencies, such as when CMR “flies in there and saves or stabilises the patient with a stroke, a burnt leg or burn and moves on. We take over,” she said, seeing to the longer-term care.

The home carers, who are supervised by the nursing sisters, all have level 3 St John training or equivalent and further training from Fish Hoek Home Nursing so that they can suit their clients, for example training in bed care for paralysed patients.

It can be tough work but, emphasised Sister Storer, lives can be transformed with the right sort of help at the right time.

She gave the example of an older woman, a hoarder, who was not washing herself, not eating and her house was dirty.

Soon after Fish Hoek Home Nursing arrived she was smiling, clean, eating and had a new lease on life.

“You can see the results,” she said.