‘An angel at the door’: One family’s experience of Night Nurse

Palliative team pointed family towards the Irish Cancer Society’s night-time service

Caroline Costello: ‘You don’t get [the support] for ever but they seem to know when you need it.’ Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon

Caroline Costello: ‘You don’t get [the support] for ever but they seem to know when you need it.’ Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon

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Carmel Costello was “a very young” 73-year-old when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016. It marked the beginning of a long interaction with the health system. When it became clear the illness was terminal, Carmel’s daughter Caroline explains, her only wish was to stay and die in her own home.

That was not a surprise to the family given their mother had lived in her Artane house in north Dublin for 49 years. She declined hospice care and so Caroline and her sister Charmaine all but moved in permanently, taking turns to care for her.

“She was never on her own,” Caroline says, looking back. “As she got worse it got to the point where the two of us needed to be there together. One of us would go to bed and the other would stay up with mum.”

Things took a turn after one particularly challenging weekend. The palliative team pointed her family towards the Irish Cancer Society’s Night Nurse service. The nurse, who was called Deirdre, arrived and took over from 11pm to 7am.

They had the comfort of knowing that they would be woken in the middle of the night if there was any deterioration in Carmel’s health

“I can only describe it that an angel came to the door,” says Caroline.

“I can’t express how much of a difference it made to all of us as a family. It meant that we were actually able to go to bed but knowing that someone was going to be able to provide her with the care that we were able to give her during the day.”

The family felt cared for, too, such was the level of quiet support. They had the comfort of knowing that they would be woken in the middle of the night if there was any deterioration in Carmel’s health.

She died on a December afternoon in 2017. “She stayed in her own home until the day she died. She brought us into the world and we were there when she left it,” Caroline says.

“We were able to do that because we got that support at the critical time. You don’t get it for ever but they seem to know when you need it.”