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Spotlight on Dolores Dunne, Front of House, Lourdes Ward
When Dolores arrived at St Joseph’s in 1986 from her home in midlands County Laois, she was only planning to stay for two years. She was a Healthcare Assistant and had wanted to train as a nurse until a back surgery forced her to re-think her career.
By this time Dolores had been working with the Sisters on the wards for five years and she was a popular member of staff. They were reluctant to let her go and asked her if she wanted to work with the patients on the long stay ward, helping to feed them and also doing some admin work.
She was really enjoying living in Hackney in the Nurses quarters and working at the Hospice so she decided to stay another few years.
The Hospice was very different 30 odd years ago. Most of the nursing staff were Religious Sisters of Charity and there were more patient beds - around 90 in total including a rehabilitation ward, respite ward and a long stay ward. Dolores worked on all three.
Dolores recalls many visits from the Royal Family but her favourite visitor was Princess Diana. She tells us about the day she arrived.
“Everyone was on their best behaviour and there was a real sense of excitement and anticipation. In person Princess Diana was stunningly beautiful and had a very serene aura about her. I was charged with standing next to the bed of one of our, shall we say, more vocal patients and when Diana went to speak to her the patient shouted in her ear “I want a commode”. There was stunned silence and I could feel the anxiety rising and she continued to shout “I want a commode, I want a commode” but Diana was great and said “yes we can get that for you. Afterwards the patient said she didn’t really want it at all!”
There was another patient, a proper east ender who wasn’t a fan of the royals. He sat on his bed looking at the racing pages, very nonchalant, picking his horse, and Diana went over to him and said “Oh you’re choosing a horse”. He looked up, burst into tears and shouted “I love you Diana, you’re so beautiful”. There was a lot of laughter but Diana handled it in her own unique way and smiled. They are wonderful memories.”
Today, 33 years after arriving at St Joseph’s Hospice, Dolores is still here. She’s the lynchpin of Lourdes Ward and we couldn’t do without her. She has been “front of house” on the ward for around 15 years and has worked on all of the wards and the switchboard. She still loves it. She said, “I work with a great team of nurses and doctors who really support each other and I have forged some amazing friendships. I also keep an eye on the junior doctors; they sometimes need extra support and a cup of tea and the odd treat of home baking which goes a long way when things get a bit tough.
I greet patients and their families when they arrive on the ward and show them round. I book appointments for the patients, answer queries on the phone and give people bereavement advice. I do lots of paperwork.
I also cut the patient’s hair if they need it. Quite recently there were two men in a four bedded ward and they wanted a haircut. When I’d finished someone said that they both looked like Boris Johnson and the funny thing was they did, I’d given them Boris haircuts.”
Working on the wards can be challenging but it is also very humbling listening to patients and their families telling their stories on how they deal with their illness as they near the end of their life. Some of my colleagues have also spent their final days here which is really tough, but we all rally round each other which really helps. But that’s what we’re here for, and it can be unbelievably sad and some people touch you more than others. If I get the opportunity, I do like to sit with patients but it’s not always possible.
St Joseph’s has a special place in my heart after all these years and I hope to continue to provide the best service I can to the Hospice.”