Eileen Claassens – The joy of making a difference
Sr Eileen Claassens, the unit manager of Drs Brittain & Partners Incorporated, Netcare Pretoria East Hospital shares why she chose a career in nursing and why she decided to go into haematology nine years ago.
Eileen Claassens (55) lives in Centurion, Gauteng with her husband. They have two adult children.
It was when Eileen was in matric that she decided she wanted to care for sick people so she decided to become a nurse. In 1985, she started as an enrolled nurse at Frere Hospital, East London. After working in another government hospital and a surgical ward of a private hospital as well as a year of au-pairing in USA, Eileen moved to Netcare Unitas Hospital, in 1991, where she completed a bridging course for registered nurses.
“I was working in the oncology unit at the time and during my training, I realised this is what I want to do. Patients go through such a difficult time when receiving this traumatic diagnosis, and I felt that if I could help to make their ‘cancer journey’ easier or more bearable, I would strive to do this for every patient I encountered, whether at the rooms, in the ward or telephonically,” Eileen explains.
Eileen worked there for four years then, in 1999, moved to Drs Alberts, Bouwer & Jordaan Oncology Practice at Life Wilgers Hospital. “I was one of the oncology nurses, working in the chemo room administering chemo, giving info to patients regarding treatment and the side effects to expect; did procedures, such as ECGs, injections, dressings, removal of sutures as well as telephonic queries, checking blood results and getting prescriptions.”
Eileen worked there for 13 years and when asked what made her stay there for so long, she responds, “I loved my job and got so attached to the patients; it felt like I was making a difference in people’s lives.”
Moving into haematology
In 2012, Eileen got the opportunity to move to the stem cell transplant unit at Alberts Cellular Therapy, Drs Brittain & Partners Incorporated, as the unit manager. “I felt up to the challenge. Haematology seemed like a new challenge, and I enjoy learning about new diseases and treatments.” Her job includes general running of the chemo room, checking patients’ medical aid authorisations, in-service training of staff, telephone queries, giving advice regarding side effects, bed bookings, ordering of blood products and managerial duties.
Eileen proved that age must never stop you from gaining more knowledge. “At the ripe age of 49, in 2015, I completed my BTEC Oncology degree at TUT. I’m still learning a lot about haematology every day. It’s such an interesting and dynamic field. It’s also very challenging as patients are acutely ill and need extensive treatment to help them cope with side effects of the stem cell transplant and high doses of chemo.”
The 55-year-old is contemplating doing her master’s degree.
The makings of a nurse
Eileen believes a good nurse is “someone who is willing to listen to their patient, who is a good advocate for their patients and shows empathy and caring.”
She explains a nurse is there to help the patient understand their specific cancer and to make them feel at ease for procedures. “We give patients printed copies of information leaflets for each new chemo regime they are about to start. A dedicated Sister sits with the patient and discusses the treatment and side effects and advises on managing side effects.”
“It’s imperative to talk to the patient, listen to them and allow them to voice their fears. At times a nurse may have to stay with patients, hold their hand if needed and, most importantly, show empathy and understanding. We also need to encourage patients. If we see a patient is very anxious we explain that the doctors are very capable of doing procedures.”
Dealing with loss
“It’s not always easy to lose patients. As much as you try, it’s difficult to not get too involved as patients become like family. Luckily, oncology nurses always support each other. I do think it’s necessary for nurses to cut off and not take the hurt home, but this isn’t always easy as many patients or situations affect you. When this happens, I talk to someone at work and do things that I enjoy like listen to music, go for a walk, or watch a movie. My worse memories are losing young patients; that is heart-breaking, and losing a patient to advanced chronic myeloid leukaemia; she was a mother of five-year-old twins.”
“But then there are good memories like when patients you nursed or gave chemo to comes and says hello after many years; this makes it worth it.”