Irene Barr, Irish Cancer Society Night Nurse
Night Nurse Irene Barr has been with the Irish Cancer Society for over two years.
Having worked as a secondary school teacher for two decades, she describes her decision to retrain as a nurse as a late vocation. “My mother had been ill for a few years with Alzheimer’s and she had been a nurse, working right up until she was 65,” says Irene. “She actually didn’t want me to apply for nursing when I was doing my Leaving Cert – she said teaching was a much nicer job. It was really while she was in hospital and was being cared for locally here in Dundalk that it planted the seed with me. The year that she died I applied for nursing.”
After she qualified, Irene worked in various places including four years in a nursing home taking care of elderly patients, and the palliative care ward of her local hospital. “That was where my interest in end-of-life came from,” she says. In the middle of the first lockdown in 2020, she read how the pandemic had seen a rise in demand for the Irish Cancer Society’s Night Nursing Service. “I could understand that completely, having nursed patients with life-limiting illnesses when visiting was very restricted in hospitals. It was very difficult for families to have to go through, and for the patients. It was just heart-breaking at times to see.”
Irene decided to look into Night Nursing and see if she was an appropriate candidate. She applied for a position and took up the role in September 2020.
She finds her work to be incredibly rewarding. “Most mornings when you’re coming home, you feel that you’ve done something worthwhile. You have made the patient comfortable, and maybe the family might have had a night’s sleep as well. There are nights when you have to get the family up when somebody has come very near end of life, but the nights that you can leave the family, they often come in the morning and say that they can’t believe they slept all night, that it’s the first time they’ve slept in days or weeks.”
Irene’s care is not just for the patient, but for the family as well. “When they know that a Night Nurse is coming, they feel such a sense of relief that they can just step back for the evening,” she says.
Night Nursing is a valuable service, she says, although it is often the case that people are not aware of it until they find themselves in a situation where they need it. “Sometimes when you arrive, families will have been wondering for weeks how they were going to cope when it came to the stage that they needed help. They are then so relieved that the Night Nursing service is there for them at this time.”
Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line
If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.
Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm
For more information