Father and Son [Cat Stevens]

I am sure that most people who work in the hospice movement would say that it is a real priviledge. I certainly do, and I am not even on the “front line”. Hospices provide care for people who have an incurable illness, from the point at which their illness is diagnosed as terminal, to the point at which they die, however long that may be. Hospice care provides for medical, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual needs – it is truly holistic. The care is not just for the patient themselves, but also for their families and friends. And this can and should continue beyond the patient’s death. Hospices place a lot of emphasis on dignity, respect and the wishes of the patient, so that their needs are met.

Sadly, this last week I have been on the other side of the fence. After a very short illness, my Dad passed away at the age of 78. It was a shock for us. He had been under the weather for two or three months, but there was no indication that he was going to die. He had heart failure which deteriorated rapidly. He was admitted to the local general hospital (NOT Wigan), where he stayed until his death, ten days later. Thankfully, my brothers and my wife and I, were at his side when he passed away. He was comfortable and not in any pain, which was a blessing. It was a huge priveledge to be with my Dad as he approached the end of his earthly life, and I am sure that he was reassured by having his family around him.

But is wasn’t all plain sailing. He was on a medical ward and not in a hospice. Oh, how I wish that he could have been in a hospice. Dad was told that his heart failure was just like cancer, at which point the consultant just left him. My brother was then immediately asked to leave the ward, because it was dinner time and visitors weren’t allowed to stay – it was a protected time. A day later, Dad was told that he was dying and that he probably only had a few days to live. He was told this when there were no family present to be with him, which was obviously very upsetting. Then there were a couple of nurses moaning about their work patterns over Christmas whilst taking dad’s blood pressure, failing to notice that it was hurting him. And we didn’t really feel supported as we walked with Dad in his last days. There were some examples of excellent care, where a member of staff spent that little bit of extra time with Dad or us, or brought us a cup of tea in the middle of the night, just as we were struggling to stay awake. In these moments it felt like we were truly being cared for.

I’m not saying these things to slag off the NHS, although I am going to write to the hospital concerned. The NHS generally does a great job. The reason I am writing about my experiences is partly cathartic (to express my thoughts and feelings), partly to celebrate what a great job hospices do, but also to express my wish that the care that hospices provide can be transferred to NHS wards a bit more. It would be wonderful if people dying in hospital, and their families, could be treated with a little bit more respect and dignity.

My Dad was a good man. He was hard working and at work always treated everyone equally and with respect. He had a great sense of humour and had loads of friends. One of his passions was gardening. His garden was always very neat and tidy, and packed with flowers. His favourites were roses and dahlias. His love of gardening rubbed off on me. So it is thanks to him that I am working as The Hospice Gardener. (Incidentally, my Mum, who has also passed away, was a big supporter of the hospice movement). Sadly Dad never got up to Wigan to see the hospice gardens, but I am sure that he would have been impressed and very proud. I’m going to miss you Dad… Rest In Peace. X