Most of us attending the Day Hospice have a fairly extensive experience of hospitals, involving consultations, treatment as day patients, tests and scans, and in-patient treatment. For many of us, like me, that experience can come not only from our own problems but also when caring for our loved ones by supporting them through their illnesses.
So when I first came to the Day Hospice, I wanted to see what sort of things differed between hospitals and hospices. Obviously they are really catering for different needs, with hospitals often trying to sort out immediate needs but with a longer term view also being important, whilst hospices have a big focus on seeking to improve the quality of life.
In previous blogs I have talked about many of the features of the Day Hospice and its facilities and support services. However, during those first few weeks of attendance there were two other important things to be done.
The first was for me to meet the Hospice doctor who was to become such an important prop for me over the coming months. Clearly she needed to check out my health problems and current treatments, and where I was receiving them. For example, I am looked after for my heart problems at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital, whilst my cancer treatment is provided by the Royal Wolverhampton Hospital Trust. Naturally I have a GP who keeps an overview of things. The great advantage of talking to the Hospice doctor is that it is always a very relaxed meeting, with no time pressures. On the other hand, my GP has to keep things moving and watch the clock, although not too obviously, I have to say. So at that first meeting with the Hospice doctor she did check me over, and I suspect that the relaxed atmosphere probably meant that my blood pressure was lower than ever before!
The second important thing was a meeting between Helen, the nurse in charge of the Day Hospice, one of the Hospice’s social workers, my daughter and me. Whilst my basic health issues were an important background to the meeting, a key focus was to look at my individual circumstances and the sort of support I was receiving, with a view to identifying just how the Hospice could help. In the letter inviting me to the meeting, I had been asked to come along and to say how I hoped the Hospice could help me. Typically for me, I came along with an A4 briefing sheet which identified my objectives and goals, how I hoped the Hospice could help me to achieve these if possible, and my fears and concerns. A written briefing was something new for Helen, I think!
It was a great chance to discuss my situation, and it really brought home to me how the Hospice takes a holistic view of each of its patients. This is really quite a contrast with my NHS experience, since the individual hospitals tend to focus largely on my immediate problems with my heart or my cancer, and their main interest in my other problems is often about the interaction of medications, or whether I can be safely discharged with someone to look after me. That is not meant to be a criticism of the hospitals, but it simply reflects the amount of time they can afford to spare on a single patient, given the great pressures under which they work. In contrast, at the Hospice everybody seems to have time for you, and wants to know about your background and interests in order to find ways in which to support you in all your needs.
Certainly I have benefitted from that support over the months. For example, I have been helped by the Hospice doctor and nurses and by the clinical psychologist, and also by the physiotherapist and the occupational therapist. The latter two have been able to provide assistance outside the Hospice, and that has meant provision of aids within the home such as a perching stool in my kitchen and a shower stool in my bathroom. To help me to get around outside the home I have a push-along walking chair, which means that I can rest if I become tired whilst walking.
Thus far I have focussed on the love and support offered by Hospice staff, but there are two other important groups. There are the volunteers, who play such a key role and who have also become my friends. There seems to be so many of them! Usually there will be around half a dozen, and sometimes more. They are sometimes joined by those who will shortly be off to start their medical studies at university, and sometimes by school students gaining work experience. The great thing is that apart from looking after us in terms of bringing drinks and serving lunch and so on, they will spend their time chatting to us, and maybe engaging in things like playing cards or chess. I should also mention the volunteer drivers who pick us up and bring us to the Hospice at the start of the day, before returning us home in the afternoon. Our day at the Hospice is not confined to the hours of 10am to 3pm spent at the Hospice itself, but extends to the moments of pick up and drop off.
The second important group is made up of all the other patients attending the Day Hospice, who make the day so pleasant and who are also caring and loving. It is not just Tuesday at the Hospice: there are phone calls during the week, when we chat and check on each other’s progress. As I have indicated before, this is always in a positive way, without needing to become overly sympathetic. So if someone says that they are due for another dose of chemotherapy in a few days, the response is usually a brief something like “hope it’s not too bad” before moving on to other topics.
When things have not been going too well during the week, it is usually the thought of my day at the Hospice which helps me to remain positive, because it is always the case that I go home feeling better than when I came. I know that there will be love and support here, particularly from the Hospice staff as well as the volunteers and the other patients. It is impossible to feel a bit down or off for very long without finding an arm round my shoulder, and hear a voice enquiring about things.
I would also like to comment about my one brief in-patient stay at the Hospice in Shrewsbury. When I went there, I was aware that I would not know anybody. But from the moment I walked through the door, the same warm feeling of a loving, caring environment came over me. So my week’s stay was delightfully therapeutic (in fact I tried to book in for Christmas, but they told me they didn’t take bookings that early!).
If I ever wanted confirmation of just how loving and caring the Hospice environment is, it was provided a few days after that stay at Shrewsbury, when I unexpectedly found myself in New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton for five days. I have no complaints whatsoever about my treatment, but there was absolutely no way in which the nursing staff and doctors could do anything but focus on my immediate needs, and the needs of so many other patients with such diverse problems. No time for love, in fact.
A simple comment from a friend caused me subsequently to sum up some of my thoughts about the Hospice. We had been playing music together in church, and then Gerald brought me to the Hospice just before lunchtime. He carried my bag down to the day room, and of course we met various staff and volunteers on the way before greeting the folks in the day room. Next time I saw Gerald he said that it was amazing that absolutely everyone seemed to be so pleased to see me. I merely said that it was always like that, but later on I realised that what he had witnessed was an excellent example of the Hospice in action, where, as the song says, love is all around me.