The following true story reflects one seen on a daily basis at St Michael's Hospice. Names have been changed to protect identity but many people will recognise the situation for themselves. It could have been you, a member of your family, a friend or work colleague.
John was admitted to casualty last night because he is dying. His symptoms worsening it became more difficult for his wife, Jean to look after him. They were both frightened and called the doctor, who sent him to hospital.
John has been coming to Hospice In-reach services and he and Jean attend Hand in Hand, the support group for carers and people being cared for. This has enabled them to cope well for some months with the inevitable changes that progressive life limiting illness brings…until last night. John and Jean have talked together about his dying, where he wants to be cared for and how he hopes it might be. The Hospice has helped them to plan ahead. He has even organised his funeral.
John wants to be in the Hospice when he dies. He wants his pain and symptoms to be well controlled and he wants to die with privacy and dignity, in the knowledge that someone will take care of Jean when it happens.
Last night, with no bed available at the Hospice, John stayed in a bay in the accident and emergency department, where everyone else needed acute care.It was naturally very busy….all night, very noisy….all night and there wasn’t anywhere for Jean to stay.It may be a few days before he can come to the Hospice. By then, it might be too late.John is dying.
Today we were able to transfer John to the Hospice.John is a proud and independent man.He fought for his country in the Second World War.He really wanted to walk into the Hospice ‘under his own steam’ but he was too tired and too weak.Both Jean and John know this will be where John will die and that it will probably happen this time.
He had been in before, when skilled professionals controlled his pain, enabled his mobility and independence and gave him confidence to manage his debilitating fatigue and extreme breathlessness.He had gone home for what had turned out to be a few months now but both knew that it was just a matter of time before things would progress …
John had achieved so much in that precious time, often through difficult and emotionally painful conversations with Jean and the family, his two sons, their wives and his much loved grandchildren.Encouraged by the Hospice he had written a journal of his life time, trawled through countless photos, revisited so many memories, told his story and together with the family shared who he was, what was important to him and how he would be remembered by his children and grandchildren.Of course there were very sad moments but also much laughter and mischief (John had a wicked sense of humour and teased his sons that they had inherited his knees, as they laughed over a snapshot of John in shorts not long after the war).
John’s last days will be spent with dignity, with his family around him, with his pain and symptoms well controlled.He has said all that he can and all that he needs to.He doesn’t want to leave Jean, his wife of 63 years but is reassured that she will be looked after by the family and that help will be available through the Hospice to support her through her bereavement.He also knows that the family will revisit the memories and stories often with the grandchildren so that even the little ones, who don’t really know him yet, will have a better idea.He and Jean had talked about what gift he would give each of them to remember him by.His eldest grandson is nearly 21 and will have his medals and the watch given to him when he retired after 45 years.He has put in a letter what they had meant to him at the time and hopes that one day his grandson will understand and they will have meaning for him too.