We continue our #HospiceVisits this week but with a difference. This week we will be focusing on Groote Schuur Hospital which is one of Cape Town’s premier tertiary academic hospitals which officially opened in 1938. The hospital is internationally renowned as the training ground for some of South Africa’s best doctors, surgeons and nurses. Today we catch up with Sr. Jennifer Arendse who is a professional nurse and unfold her journey of becoming one of Cape Town’s biggest Palliative Care Champions.
Jennifer grew up in Hawston and has 5 brothers and 6 sisters. Married this year for 28 years she has one child and 2 adopted children who are both 28 years old. At the age of 18 she moved to Cape Town to start her career in nursing. At the time she struggled with English as her preferred language was Afrikaans but later adapted.
Jennifer’s career all started in 1986 when she pursued her dream of becoming a nurse. Studying at the Nico Malan Nursing College she remembers the bus picking up all the students and dropping them off at the various hospitals where they did their practical training. She started her practical training at Conradie Hospital and later moved to Panorama Hospital as an enrolled nurse. In 1990 she applied at Groote Schuur Hospital and have been there ever since. Jennifer’s heart was always for palliative care and determined to peruse this, she applied at the Cape Peninsula University of Cape Town to do a palliative care course only to discover they no longer offered it. To her disappointed she decided to study Oncology instead. After completing her degree in Oncology and 4 years in the field, she decided to call it quits and decided to do a one year course in Palliative Care which was offered at Groote Schuur Hospital. In 2014 she was approached to facilitate the palliative care programme at the hospital and since then has never looked back. “I love what I do and am really passionate about palliative care” she added.
Why Palliative Care?
The reason why palliative care is so important to me is because I got to see first-hand what it is all about and the positive affect it had not only for my mother who was very ill in 2000 but for me as well. During her illness (lung cancer), there was a hospice palliative care nurse who travelled all the way from Worcester to my mother’s place which was over 200km away. “She did an amazing job, taking care of my mother”. At the time the nurse also explained to me how morphine could assist my mother’s pain and funny enough I was very sceptical as I was not familiar with this and refused her to give it to her as I was afraid she would die. But eventually I realised that this will benefit her and started administering it to her myself. At times all my family members would gather to watch me give my mother the morphine in anticipation to check if she is still alive.
This was my very first encounter of palliative care which encouraged me to learn more about it as I saw the benefits thereof. It was sad to see my mother pass away but knowing that she died without pain – warms my heart.
About the Palliative Care programme.
Jennifer praises her very first mentor, Dr Liz Gwyther who assisted her for 6 months in starting the palliative care programme at Groote Schuur Hospital. “Liz would see patients with me and advise me on things I wasn’t too sure about. She is absolutely amazing!” she added. This continued until the programme was stabilised for me to take over on my own. The support has been really amazing.
The programme is co-ordinated by Jennifer with the support of 2 Auxilary social workers who are very dedicated and attends to the needs of the patient. “They are very passionate about what they do.” she said.
Palliative Care Integration in the hospital setting
On the 1 July 2016 over 50 Groote Schuur staff members consisting of operational managers and nurses graduated after completing their palliative care training. These staff members are operational in different departments within the hospital setting, allowing the footprint of palliative care to be present from emergency wards, surgical and even psychiatric wards. Through this training, palliative care knowledge is more prominent and patients are keen to learn more about it.
Average day at work
At 06:00am in the morning, Jennifer does consultations with families that cannot attend during the day, educating them on pain control, symptom control and how to care for their families at home. “It’s also important to educate the family on the diagnosis of the patients who they care for as well as the changes that could encounter. It’s very encouraging to see families leaving equipped with the knowledge to care for their patients” she said.
Jennifer is very passionate about community work and seeing the development thereof. She is currently involved with 2 projects:
1.Working with the homeless where she hands out blankets and food to those who need it the most and even offers them a place to stay at her house when the weather conditions are not favourable.
2. Student intervention where she offers matriculants a room to study for exams and also assists them with their matric ball attire.
Apart from being a professional nurse, she is also a part time pastor where she studied pastoral theology in 2002. Jennifer loves reading especially novels and boasts that she has already completed over 200 books.