Sister Janet Nankoma is a fifty six year old senior nursing officer at Uganda Cancer Institute, one of the longest serving employees at the health organization. She has diligently given health services and care to cancer patients for over seventeen years. Many times we get to hear stories of the cancer patients but hardly hear any from the people that provide care to these patients especially in Uganda. This is the story of Sister Janet Nankoma, she gives us her life story and experience in the medical profession and her experience with patients.
Why did you choose the medical profession?
Sometimes when you are young you have career guidance and end up in some professions, I did interviews and passed so I ended up in the nursing profession and I love it, I actually prefer it to teaching. I chose this profession over being a doctor because it would take me longer in school and I didn’t want to study for that long.
Tell me about your experience with patients at UCI.
Eeeh Patients here (long sigh) I imagine patients these really suffer because they do not come early, they always come here late. For example patients with cancer of the stomach are told that they have ulcers and after a certain period of time when they get proper diagnosis they end up being told that they have cancer of the stomach. I would advise people to check themselves for cancer, but it is not a practice in Uganda. Majority of people do not test for cancer, when they are alright they do not bother to do so and even when they have pain somewhere they choose to persevere this pain and keep going for Panadol just to relieve it.
What has been your biggest scare from your experience as a nurse?
You know as a nurse sometimes you may look at a patient and think that he/she is going to die then God surprises you by letting them survive. So if you have not cared for the patient and you find them okay, you start blaming yourself, if you care for the patient and he/she dies you stay satisfied because you would have done your job to do the best for the patient. If you haven’t done the best you feel unsatisfied and it can haunt you. There is a certain breast cancer patient who got all the treatment and at that time there were no drugs but she could afford to pay for all the treatment from outside, the patient died. I really got annoyed, you end up feeling bad especially when you expect the patient to be okay and they die and you end up telling yourself that maybe I never did my nursing properly and do not know how to anticipate things. But that is God’s making so you end up consoling yourself that you’re not God and he is the one who knows the timetable for everyone, after that thinking you end up coming back to work.
What have been your major achievements?
I have tried to care for my patients well, there is a time when I even felt rude while telling them facts but what is encouraging is that they keep coming back. I feel happy when they come back because sometimes I get annoyed and feel like I have been rude to them but the following day they keep looking and asking for me so I feel happy. I don’t know whether I give them hope but they keep coming to me and that surprises me. Another thing is I haven’t remained as I was because I did a certificate in nursing first then I did midwifery next and did bachelors as well, at least I have tried to upgrade.
Is it true that nursing is only for women?
That is not true, we have male and female nurses at UCI and they enjoy their work. They are even upgrading which means that they love the profession.
Do you have a family and if so, how do you balance family with work?
Yes I have a family of two children, a young man and lady and then I also have a grandson from my daughter. I try to do my things very fast because if I do not time catches up with me. From work I always go back home late although public servants are supposed to leave work at five pm, I always go home after six. Since I have a small family I do not worry about reaching home late, I get tired and do not realize it until am at home having supper. Sometimes I doze off, they give me food and I sit in my chair, sleep off and wake up at 3am and the food is there.
What do you do in your free time?
On Saturday and Sunday am not supposed to work being a manager of a unit at UCI. At home I wash my clothes and clean my house. I rarely see my friends because the time I get is spent at home resting, I do my housework and rest.
What would advise fellow nurses?
Nurses should have team work because you cannot care for the patient alone, team work is very important. Somebody like a cleaner has to keep the ward clean and if you are not at good terms with them, you will have a patient with maybe blood and vomitus splashing around, so they cannot work in such an environment. You can even sleep and fall in the soiled area if the cleaners do not do come in to help. The doctors as well will not come to see patients in such an environment or write if they do not have files, that means the record clerk is important as well, so team work is key. The nurses should also understand that everyone as an individual is different, people come from different families and communities. If they do not understand individuals then their work will be difficult. This is because someone will come for treatment speaking a different language and yet you do not understand it. You have to be calm and look for an interpreter, otherwise you may not manage the work. If you do not help that person then you and the patient as well will walk away unsatisfied and the patient may even curse you which is not good.