One of the good things about spending Tuesdays at the Hospice is the knowledge that I will be meeting my friends, in particular the other patients, as well as the volunteers and the staff. However, from time to time there are changes in the group, and these come about for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes people may be missing briefly, perhaps just for one week, because of hospital appointments or treatment. The nature of our various illnesses means that we all have quite a familiarity with hospitals. The treatments may in themselves cause an absence: an obvious example is chemotherapy, which can be very punishing and have severe side-effects making it impossible to attend the Hospice.
Holidays can also result in a temporary absence for those who are able to get away, and these can be very beneficial, especially since the holiday will normally be taken with loved ones.
A problem faced by the Day Hospice, and the Hospice in general, is the continual demand for its services. The Hospice always endeavours to accommodate people as far as possible given the limitations of staff, space and finances. Recently the Day Hospice at Telford has opened on a Monday in addition to Tuesday, Thursday and Friday in order to create spaces.
Sometimes patients may experience good periods and remission, and may not wish or need to attend the Hospice anymore, which is wonderful for them. In these cases their attendance would be reduced or they may be discharged. However, they can come back at any time if they become less well.
Apart from reaction to hospital treatment, there are occasions when members of the group simply do not feel up to attending the Hospice and just need to stay at home and try to recover. Most of us are very determined to make the effort to attend, even when we are feeling pretty rough, simply because we know that it usually helps us to go home feeling better than when we came.
But if these rough times persist, it can lead to someone being away for a few weeks, and possibly having a spell in hospital or as an in-patient at the Hospice. We sometimes welcome them back to the group and sometimes we learn that they have died. It is inevitable that a group of people with life-limiting illnesses will occasionally find that one of their number has passed away and naturally this causes some sadness for the rest of us.
It is something which we all know will happen from time to time and our sadness is ameliorated by the knowledge that whoever has died had been receiving the best possible love and care. We don’t usually respond by being gloomy but remember some of the good moments which we have been able to share over the weeks and months.
When we do lose someone it presents an opportunity for a new patient to join us. The Hospice nursing staff introduce newcomers to the rest of us but it can be quite a lot of faces to get to know. I found that it happened gradually for me over the course of a few weeks and that one of the best opportunities to sort out who’s who comes at lunchtime as you get the chance to talk to several people during the meal.
New faces bring new experiences and memories to the rest of us, and maybe special talents e.g. in creative work, sense of humour, or expertise in playing crib. I think that folks find themselves at home pretty rapidly because we are a friendly and caring bunch.
Of course there are other faces which change, there can also be changes in nursing staff. Come what may, all of those who stand in for them or replace them seem to be cast in the same loving, caring mould, which is wonderful. Amongst the volunteers, there is an amazing continuity, with some of them clocking up twenty years or more of volunteering.
So although there is a certain stability of faces at the Day Hospice it is an environment which gradually changes. I find that helpful not least because new faces tend to bring new ideas and conversations.