‘It’s a great privilege to work here’

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Julia McIvor is the Nurse Manager of the Foyle Hospice’s Day Therapy Unit, and although it can be difficult and undoubtedly emotional at times, it’s a job she enjoys.

“I’ve been working at the hospice back and forth since it first opened and have been Manager of Day Therapy since the unit opened in 2002,” Julia told the ‘Journal’.

“Here at Day Therapy, we are all trained nurses and we basically look after patients who come in from home for the day. We have up to 12 patients here every day and we also support families and try to provide a range of activities for everyone. Obviously, we have nursing care too like bathing, dressing and providing medical care when necessary.”

Speaking of an average day at the Day Therapy Unit, Julia says: “We are open three days a week and take different patients each day, all of whom have life-limiting conditions.”

“Our patients come at 10.30am and stay until 3.30pm and while they are here, they have their lunch and are well looked after.

“We have a wonderful cook and lunch is a big part of the day here because everyone gets to sit around a table and have a three-course lunch together, the craic is great sometimes!

“But, basically, the Day Therapy is just to get people out of the house for a while and it means that someone is assessing them and keeping an eye on them, making sure they’re doing okay. We advise on symptom control and how to manage better at home.”

Julia says that the Day Therapy Unit can provide a break for families or carers and that patients can then avail of the staff’s counselling skills as well as depend on them for any emotional or psychological support they may need.

“Being able to come in here gives the partner or carer the day off if they need it,” she says. “They feel secure because they know their loved one will be cared for and well looked after, with the capability to do medical procedures if need be. People of all ages come here and we do what we can for them - that’s what we’re here for.”

Despite the obvious emotional impact of working with people with life-limiting illness, Julia and her team keep positive and strive to make the patients feel positive too.

“I’m sure people may be initially afraid when they come here for the first time and are unsure what to expect. So we staff are familiar faces that they eventually get used to and like to see. I think people appreciate the continuity.”

“It’s not depressing to work here, it’s quite uplifting really,” she reveals. “It’s a great privilege to work here with people who are sick and to be able to help them and their families adjust. Of course, you do get attached to the patients, you develop a great fondness for people and you get to know their family and see what a strain all this is on them, but that’s just part of the job and you learn to cope with it.”

Although it has a trained and dedicated staff, the Day Therapy Unit also relies heavily on volunteers for its day-to-day running.

“We are very well supported by a large team of volunteers who are involved in all the activities,” Julia says. “The beauty, hairdressing, complimentary therapies, the arts and crafts, music, volunteers are involved in all of that, which is just brilliant. They bring their life experience and their energy here too, and I think people really appreciate that.”

“A lot of our volunteers come here through word of mouth, but obviously we are also looking for people with certain skills that they can bring and we do have a Volunteer Coordinator. We have volunteers in the kitchen, driving for us, working in the gardens making the view so beautiful - there are so many opportunities for volunteers here.

“There’s entertainment here at different times too, and on any occasions we try to have a party too. We also have some students from University of Ulster putting on a play here soon too.”

Like all the staff and medical team at the Foyle Hospice, Julia sometimes finds her work difficult and but she still smiles brightly most of the time.

“There’s a certain uplifting atmosphere here, but of course there is time for patients to have quiet space, to confide in staff and to relax by themselves. You do tend to remember most people you meet here and remember their families too, but that’s a nice part of the job and you find you’re always happy to see people again.”