Personal nursing: “Like looking for a needle in a haystack”

Why understanding your needs and your language is such a rare quality in a personal nurse. 

For years my friend Joanne looked after a man in his seventies who suffered from Parkinson’s, plus heart and back trouble. He spent much of his time in the hospital-style bed installed in his apartment in Nice; there, his medical needs ranged from syringe-changing to regulating his apnoea machine to blood tests.

His biggest problem? He didn’t understand French. His deficiency in the language made it next to impossible to get in-home care, even though he was covered by French social security with its impressive array of assistance. He simply could not communicate his needs. Even when agencies sent over an aide soignante à domicile with “good English”, it simply wasn’t “good” enough. Beyond “Yes” and “How are you?”, medical terms got lost in translation.

Joanne’s story is not unique; those looking for personal care assistance in English contact the Reporter regularly. It is frustrating to search for a qualified carer who speaks the language – like trying to find a handyman who shows up on time and finishes the job – and until recently there were none to be found.

Shirley HarrimanNursing assistant Shirley Harriman has lived in France for over 20 yearsBut now we have nurse Shirley Harriman, expertise and experience at the ready. Leicestershire lass Shirley met her French husband in the UK. They decided to come to the Côte d’Azur in 1992, moving near to his family in Tourrettes-sur-Loup.

Shirley took her UK nursing qualifications to the prefecture where she received the equivalent diploma to work in France as an aide soignante. She found work straightaway at the original Sunny Bank, the English-speaking hospital in Cannes.

“It was really difficult for patients if they didn’t speak French,” Shirley says. “At the time, French nurses didn’t really have any bedside manner, but I’ve seen first-hand how this has changed.”

Shirley then worked four years at the Maison de Mineur, a heart and lung rehabilitation clinic in Vence. “It’s a brilliant concept. After open heart surgery, patients come here for a month of physiotherapy and are followed by a cardiologist.”

Private care positions – end-of-life care in Mougins and assisting a disabled elderly gentleman in Monaco – plus a job at the Clinique Saint-Jean in Cagnes-sur-mer also contribute to this 53-year-old’s CV; she has kept herself steadily employed over her two decades on the Riviera. An attractive and likeable woman, Shirley is completely integrated into the French community, but sees a need to help the English struggling with the language.

Shirley has this message for Reporter readers in need of qualified nursing assistance: “I am a very good personal carer and I have set up as a business and registered with the Chambre de métiers. I specialise in post-operative care, daily living assistance – including help with medication – and palliative care and I can meet with you anywhere from Monaco to Cannes to assess your needs.”

Shirley can be contacted on 06 49 17 59 48 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

FacebookTwitterStumbleuponLinkedin