26th June 2012

Our hospice experience

My wife’s mother Pat was diagnosed with bladder cancer in October 2011. She spent Christmas in hospital in Redditch where the bladder was removed and after a couple of weeks in hospital and a few more recuperating with us, she was able to go home to Worcester. The cancer was very aggressive though and by Easter 2012, Pat was back in hospital in Cheltenham. A further major operation took place to remove part of the bowel and we knew that Pat was in trouble.

In her hour of greatest need Pat had received every care she could wish for. But perhaps more importantly it had allowed the family to spend quality time with Pat, sitting with her, remembering happy times, sharing an experience. The family had received such support that we had the strength and energy to keep going too.

The organisation of cancer services meant that we had to travel for an hour to get to both Redditch and Cheltenham. My wife used to be a nurse so understood the pressures that the staff were under, but it was not easy to ring up and talk to somebody about her dying mother, nor to arrange visiting times around the school pick up. A space became available for Pat at St Richard’s Hospice and sadly she never made it home as she passed away.

Our experience of St Richard’s was fantastic. I remember going in for the first time to see Pat thinking that it was going to be hugely depressing; this after all is a place where people go to die. However we were greeted at the front desk by a lady who was a volunteer and was clearly giving up her Sunday afternoon to help others. There was a pleasing calm atmosphere. Pat’s room was bright and airy with a lovely view to the garden where the ducks played happily on the pond and came up to the patio door for food. A man, who we came to know and love as David, was gently playing the piano in the central atrium.

As you wandered down the corridor to make a cup of tea in the visitor’s room, all the staff looked you in the eye and smiled. If the children began to get a bit bored, there was a play room just for them where they could go happily and safely. I walked to the car park after my first visit not depressed but uplifted. As Pat stared death in the face, here was a place that was a haven of calm, where people tangibly cared. Rather than being angry that life could be seemingly so cruel, it was a contrast to see that there were still people out there who were so willing to help others, that the human spirit could be so kind and caring.

Most importantly Pat was happy. Here nothing was too much trouble. The food was fantastic and if my wife wanted to come in and have lunch with her mum, she booked it in advance but it was possible. Pat was confined to bed but the facilities and staffing levels meant that most mornings she could be put in the special bubble bath which offered her such comfort and dignity.  Pat had been so looking forward to watching the Olympics but a volunteer had brought in her torch from the torch relay which Pat got to hold. It had made her day. ( pictured above)

The cancer continued to spread nastily but her pain was managed by the palliative care experts at the hospice.

In the immediate build up to Pat’s death, my wife and her brother were able to stay all night and be with their mum. After her suffering was mercifully brought to an end, we looked back as a family with an enormous debt of gratitude to the hospice. We wondered how we could have possibly coped without the hospice. The incredible thing is that it relies on donations to function. We have already begun fund raising in Pat’s memory so that the remarkable work can continue to help families all over Worcestershire.