She soon realised that she was seeing a number of patients who were in the hospitals which were designed to cure infectious disease or repair broken bones and so on, but which weren’t well equipped to deal with people who were in pain and dying slowly, with all sorts of non – medical worries, which Almoners helped them deal with.
She became particularly attracted to one patient, David Tasma, a Polish waiter, about 40, who had escaped somehow from the Warsaw ghetto during the War, and ended up in London. He had terminal cancer and was feeling that his life had really been worthless. He had done nothing good, nothing worthwhile. So there he was, at the end. Cicely spent a lot of time with him, over a period of only about a month, and developed a very close relationship. She recognised that the pain he was suffering had in fact multiple components, one being that he had lost his family’s Jewish faith. Cicely discussed her own beliefs and life’s meaning with David, and thus helped him to return to the faith of his fathers. He and other patients showed her that if they could be helped with spiritual issues regardless of their faith if any, with family and other worries, not just their symptoms, then they usually settled and needed less pain control than if that was all that was being done. This was the germ of the idea that terminal patients needed to be cared for in a different way and reinforced the concept of Total Pain.
When working for Mr “Pasty” Barratt, a leading Harley Street surgeon, she started volunteering as a nurse at St Luke’s Hospice for the Dying Poor. There, she saw the benefits of really good and thoughtful nursing care plus good pain control, but also that there was a serious lack of professional medical help. This made her sure that care of the dying needed to be a lot better and was work that she could do.
Somewhere along the way as an almoner, she had had a ‘road to Damascus’ experience, being converted to evangelical Christianity within the Anglican Church. She felt that there was something she had to do, but she wasn’t quite clear about it. Because of her unusually wide experience as a nurse and now as an almoner, she was well equipped to make care for the terminally ill much better. She discussed this with Pasty Barratt, who said to her ‘Well, you’ve got good ideas, but you won’t get anywhere unless you become a doctor. It’s the doctors who desert the dying’.
Cicely being fired up with this advice, went back again to St Thomas’s and applied to the medical school. She hadn’t done the first degree, so they were hesitant. Pasty used his influence and they let her in at the age of 31, and she proceeded to complete her medical training, passing all exams first time.
When she was doing medical house jobs, she saw that pain control needed a lot of research, to provide evidence not just opinion. She applied for and received a research grant from The Sir Halley Stewart Memorial Trust so now she could start her work.