"You hear more laughter than you hear moaning or groaning or tears or anything"
Maureen knows how to celebrate her birthdays and enjoy every moment. Five years ago she was told she had six months to live. She laughs as she lists her conditions which include heart failure and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), as well as surviving cancer back in 2001.
She was diagnosed with heart failure after a spate of dizzy spells pointed to a leaking heart valve. Several operations and hospital stays later, and in 2012 Maureen was told nothing else could be done. That’s when her journey with St Helena began. From an initial stay at The Hospice in 2012 to adjust her medications, to visiting the Joan Tomkins Centre for Day Therapies, Maureen has a new lease of life. During a week’s respite stay at The Hospice, she shared her story…
It’s wonderful here. Someone is even doing my washing this morning. It really is like a luxurious hotel. I promote it in any way for anybody.
Look at me, do I look ill? People come The Hospice and I think they think ‘what’s she doing here’? It’s because they are brilliant here.
During my stay I’ve had a Jacuzzi and I’ve had a massage to try to straighten my hand. I’ve had my nails done and had my hair cut and set. You need it, you get it! Nothing is too much for them.
If people who are invited to come are scared or not sure what’s going on, they should know it isn’t anything to be scared about. You hear more laughter than you hear moaning or groaning or tears or anything. Obviously occasionally you do have tears but I would say people do more laughing and talking in here than they do at home – I know I do. People mustn’t be scared of the word hospice. It really is a good place.
Since 2012, we’ve been having really good celebrations because ‘next year will be the last year’- and it wasn’t! I was told I had six months to live, so each anniversary everybody thinks it’s the last. ‘Make the most of it’ I’ve been saying. Five years later I’m still here. My next birthday is in May, but it was in that first May the six months was up; so we double celebrate that month.
I was scared that if I didn’t go, what would happen
You don’t know what’s going to happen. It could happen to anybody not just somebody who has a heart condition.
I knew nothing about hospices at all. I wasn’t scared, because I was scared that if I didn’t go, what would happen. I’d try anything as long as it was going to make me better. And my goodness, I’m so glad I did come.
At first other people would say, ‘you’re not going there’ and I told them they had the wrong idea and to come in and see me, which they did. Now they say, ‘oh you’re going for your rest again, you’re going to the five class hotel!’
My husband has dementia and we look after each other, and I do have a carer. We have a routine and he is very good. He can make coffee but he can’t always remember if it was coffee or tea he is making. He always does the washing up. Now the carer brings our meals in; she’ll cook them over night and put them in the microwave for us. What he does, he does, and what I do, I do; although it’s very little I’m afraid. We muddle along.
What's wrong with you, dear?
They took me over [to the Joan Tomkins Centre] for the Gardening group this week and I painted a bird house. I’ve got all my ‘oh that’s from St Helena’ items. At one group I painted a boot and some people came to my home and said ‘oh I love that, where did you get it?’ So I said it was rather expensive, I didn’t get it locally. They said ‘oh I’d love to get so and so one of those; isn’t it beautiful’. Yes, I painted it at the hospice I told them. ‘You what?’
It does look nice even if I say it myself. Once they gave us all little seeds and the next week we saw how far they’d grown, and then they next week we took them home. They came up really well; marigolds, lots of different ones. Hospice care is not doom and gloom; people have got to get that out of their heads.
[At the Day Therapies groups] nobody really asks ‘what’s wrong with you, dear?’ It’s more laughing and talking. Nobody really mentions ‘oh my leg hurts, or this hurts’. Everybody changes the minute they come through the door. It’s wonderful to hear laughter, especially when we get on to singing and we jazz it up! The singing is for your breathlessness. So it’s breathing techniques, trying to get your breath a bit. We have instruments to go with it. Everybody wants the percussion of course. Yes, they can hear it from over here [The Hospice]! We have a young lady who comes in and plays the banjo. She plays lots of African lullabies; they are sort of rhythmical movements. It really is nice.
We play games like skittles, sitting down games, kicking balloons them in the air [for movement and breathing]. People just can’t believe you come to a hospice because you are ill and you sit there trying to keep a balloon up in the air with whatever part you can reach it with! They have something different every time. It’s wonderful.
Lovely to see you, your usual?
Going to the groups makes me feel happy, relieved, safe. It starts before you get through the door when the gentleman [volunteer driver] comes to pick you up and he’s laughing and happy and joking.
The people on the desk know me by name, I don’t know if it’s famous or infamous, I’ll have to find that one out! ‘Hello Maureen, how are you? Lovely to see you, your usual?’ And then within two seconds there’s a mug of coffee waiting. One of the volunteers brings doughnuts and she makes sure she keeps a jam one for me.
From the second you open the door, it’s nothing but welcoming, people know who you are. There aren’t enough words to describe how wonderful it is.
I hope you never have to have hospice support but you’re missing a great deal! I don’t think you’ll find sadness anywhere and you’ll certainly not find it with the volunteers, nurses, doctors, the pinkies; they’re all good.
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