Robert attends our Welcome Group here at Birmingham St Mary’s and this is his Hospice story…

‘Palliative Care’

When I first got diagnosed with cancer, my doctor said to me, “Now you have cancer in your lung, what I would’ve done is operate on you and take 25% of your lung away but I’m unable to do that as your heart is so weak. I can’t even take a biopsy off you.”

It’s the same with my back, I’ve got 3 discs out and a twisted spine. The doctor at the Royal Orthopaedic said, “I’ve got a long operation, I can do it but I’m afraid you’d die on the table, it’s too long for you.” So I have to put up with it and I take morphene.

So you know, palliative care comes along and I’m thinking ‘palliative care’, what are they going do to do me? And they’re not going to do nothing but be exceptionally nice to me.

When the words palliative care were first mentioned, it scared me, it really, really did. “Palliative care, what’s that? I’ve never heard of it”, they’d say “You’ve never heard of it?” And that’s when they told me all about palliative care and introduced these places.

Before coming here, I had the wrong idea completely of a hospice, I thought it was a place they take you and you’re going to die, that’s all I thought about it, nothing else. I had no idea about anything like the Day Hospice or the outreach things they do. I thought hospice – dead.

The Day Hospice

Trudie [my clinical nurse specialist] was the first person I spoke to and she referred me to the Day Hospice programme. When I first came here, I was made to feel very welcome. The first thing I did at the Day Hospice was sit down and draw the plans for a yacht I’m making out of matchsticks. I thought I’d occupy my mind as I’m resting and sitting in a comfortable chair.

The 12-week [therapeutic] programme in the Day Hospice was very good, I enjoyed it. That was something I hadn’t done for a while, having someone talk and I really enjoyed that. There was keep-fit where we sat down and did stuff like Tai Chi. We also did breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, which were helpful.

After the programme, I joined the Welcome Group and I’ve been coming here for 6 weeks and I’d love to come all the time if I could. I sit in the crafts section, I don’t ask for much, and I do a spot of colouring. Jacqueline [another Welcome Grouper] lives quite close to me, so her husband brings us one week and my wife brings us the next week.

Here at the Hospice, I’ve made these Christmas boxes for my great-nieces and nephews, they’ve all been personalised with their names and I’ve put away a pound a week all year for each of them.

I enjoy colouring and I build models. With my little colouring book and this medium sized one, I’m going to make a collage, cutting them all out to make one big picture.

I got into colouring about 12 months ago, I was sitting down at home and my son, who’s a ward manager, bought me a book and some colouring pens, and said, “Have a go at this Dad, it might stimulate your mind a bit,” and it’s amazing how it does.

Whatever I do now, it’s all about stimulating my mind, if I got Alzheimer’s I wouldn’t be able to do anything, so I’m trying to keep my mind active.

I look forward to the Welcome Group, I really do look forward to it, coming every Wednesday. I’d come every day if I could; honestly, I think it’s lovely and the people are great. Most of us have all got the same thing, we’re all terminally ill, it might not be immediate but we all know we’re going to go.

A human being

The nurses here have a different outlook on their nursing, they try to make our lives as happy as they can; our final few months or years or whatever it may be.

The staff here are excellent, that’s all I can describe them as is excellent. There’s not another word to describe them. The paid staff and the volunteers; they treat me like a human being. They are treating me with palliative care but they’re treating me in a special way, it’s hard to describe.

If I have any questions, I’ll call the nurse over and ask her advice on what to do and they tell me. I’ve got to realise that I’m 75 now, I’m not 55 or 45. I’m 75 and these people are trained in looking after older people like me, so I go to them for advice. I can say to a volunteer here at the Welcome Group, I’d like to speak to a nurse and straight away, they’re in the office and I’ve got someone coming to see me.

I’m not happy that I’ve got cancer but I’m happy with the help, the attention and the medical practitioners that I have.

Everybody’s so happy

Every day I come here is a day that stands out to me, that’s got to be the true answer, not a particular day but every day because I enjoy it so much.

What surprised me about Birmingham St Mary’s is everybody’s so happy. We talk about palliative care and hospices, and you think oh my god but they ain’t, they’ve got their heads held high and they’re all happy, that’s what surprised me. I’d recommend this Hospice to anybody.

I’m not sure why everyone’s so happy but perhaps they’re like the old-fashioned nurses where it’s a vocation for them instead of just doing a job. You wouldn’t have the volunteers working here too if it wasn’t a happy place and I get a feeling that the nurses really enjoy their work and what they say or do to me, they mean it.

It also gives my wife some time to herself; when I’ve gone, she can do what she likes. I’ll go, “What are you doing today?” and she’ll say, “I’ve not decided yet”. She must be doing something she doesn’t want me to know about. She’s an angel my wife, she really is. We’ve been married for 54 years, so we’re only just getting to know each other…

Thank you Robert for taking the time to share your hospice story with us and for helping us to raise awareness of hospice care.

If you’d like to find out more about the services we offer here at Birmingham St Mary’s including our Day Hospice, please click here.