Published on May 8, 2012
At the heart of any relationship, there lies an undercurrent of trust.
It’s a fact that is especially true when talking about the relationship between nurse and patient, and even more so when talking about nurses who specialize in treating those living with chronic hepatitis C.
While many living with hepatitis C can be cured, the road through treatment is a long and arduous one.
“It entails an injection a week and eating pills every day for 24 weeks,” explained Ronald Buckley, a 55-year-old man who has been living with the disease since 1986.
Buckley has been through treatment for the condition twice now.
He credits his own hepatitis support nurse for helping him push through when it seemed like he couldn’t go on.
“(She) was always there for me. On the emotional side she would counsel me in ways like, ‘It’s not the end of the world, this will change, give it some time and it wont be so bad’ … ‘keep going,’ was one of her big things,” he said.
“I got through the treatment, and so far I am virus free. They can’t find the virus in my system anymore, so that’s a good thing.”
Hepatitis C support nurses provide more than physical treatment to their patients.
They act as advocates, educators and counsellors, and are an essential facet of a patient’s treatment.
“I think a nurse’s support is vital for clients going through treatment successfully,” said Shelley Crawford, a hepatitis C support nurse in Prince Albert.
“I think your relationships with your clients become close because you work on all of those aspects of their care, and that’s extremely rewarding. When you see clients who have successfully went through treatment and they’ve cured their virus, it’s an indescribable feeling.”
While more than 250,000 Canadians live with the disease, it still carries the weight of the negative stigma associated with intravenous drug use and HIV.
“Oh boy … I thought it was the end of the world,” Buckley explained, about finding out he had contracted the disease in 1986.
“I thought … this is it, I’m gonna die. I compared it to HIV right away, and that was my big scare. Then I was told that it was nothing, it won’t hurt me, and a few years later down the road I found out that it will hurt me.
“There was a lot of mixed information about the disease back then, which has changed today. Today they know a lot more about it.”
While physicians and nurses are much more educated on the subject these days, hepatitis C still carries an inordinate amount of negative stigma.
“I still see a lot of stigma,” Crawford said.
“Clients have been bullied, they’ve been harassed, and they’ve even been fired in some experiences … lots of clients feel isolated and embarrassed about having the virus, no matter how they got it.
“We want everyone to know that it’s important to get tested, decrease the stigma, so we can stop the spread. Education is the big thing.”
Hepatitis C can be spread through a number of means, including blood transfusions occurring prior to 1992, tattoo needles and personal care items like toothbrushes, razor blades and nail clippers.
Many who carry the disease do not show symptoms, and it may take years for them to appear.
“Many people can have the virus and don’t even know it, so that’s why it’s so important for Canadians to be aware of all of the different ways it can be contracted,” Crawford said.
The good news is that many patients can be cured using new therapies currently available in Canada, though many come with some unpleasant side effects similar to those found in chemotherapy patients.
Having the right support network in place can prove to be invaluable in the long run.
“Very important. Very important to have the right network of support there, because I found that trying to do it alone is so hard,” Buckley explained.
“You end up isolated away because of the treatment. Because of the side effects of treatment, you tend to be sick a lot, so you’re isolated as it is, and if you isolate any more then it gets to be a problem.”
Buckley said his support nurse, along with his friends and family, gave him the strength to see it through.
“I find her more of a close friend than a nurse. Her door is always open. I can knock on the door and she always takes the time to say hi, come in, sit down and chat about what’s going on in my life… she’s always there,” he said.
“Even if I’m done treatment, I still drop in about once a week to have a chat with her, see where I’m going you know, just to check in. And she’s still there. I don’t think I would have made it through the treatment if she wasn’t there. The support and the compassion that she shows has always been what kept me going back.”
Crawford encouraged anyone who may think they have contracted the virus to get tested.
“Come out, get tested. For those who are living in silence with the virus, I really encourage those clients to come,” she said.
“Just come down and pop in and see us down at the clinic (at 101 15th Street E.)
“As support nurses we are there to support them on their treatment journey, both physically and emotionally, and at the end of the day that’s what we want — as many patients to be cured as possible.”
Buckley said that he wants everyone to know that anybody can contract the virus, and with the right support network, anybody can beat it.
“Hepatitis C is a treatable disease,” he said.
“We can function in the world as normal human beings. Just because we have it doesn’t mean that we need to be locked away in a closet.”