When we think of bucket lists – running the London Marathon, skydiving or climbing Mount Everest may come to mind. When a patient is terminally ill, their bucket list becomes a lot more meaningful and arguably more realistic.
Long gone are the days of wanting to travel the world, it’s the little things that mean the most. In palliative and hospice care, we try our utmost to bring the light out in the dark and help people meet some of their goals.
“It may be small gestures that can have a big impact”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we lost sight of this – mainly because we couldn’t safely facilitate it. Since Covid-19 restrictions have lifted, we have been slow to implement special experiences.
This part of our hospice magic has been slightly dampened, not because the team does not want to provide this level of care; but because it’s not at the forefront of our minds.
Someone in the team put it quite clearly: “We have lost so much during Covid, we don’t always remember what we used to do and why we stopped doing it”.
The gravity of entering through the hospice doors, often hits patients when they arrive here. Therefore, wanting to return home to “see the home/garden for one last time” can be very important. It takes a whole team approach to make it happen, but it’s not impossible.
Or it may be small gestures that can have a big impact. A young patient of 21 years old simply wanted to have beers and a curry with his friends. So we set that up, put on the sports channel and ordered the takeaway and beers. This meant he had some normality for a few hours before we started talking about pain, nausea and bowels again. It was a small gesture but the impact for him was huge and I’m sure it’s something his friends talk about often since he died.
Another patient wanted to see his pet guinea pigs again, so we enabled that to happen – in fact we have had a horse visit as well as a parrot (on separate occasions).
More recently, we had a young patient with us who was scared during a night shift. I was trying to distract her and speak to her about her favourite music, to which she responded Ed Sheeran. I thought, maybe, just maybe I could do something special for her. After a few emails and a couple of weeks’ wait – I was sent a video clip from the man himself.
I gathered up the staff to show the patient – it was a total shock and surprise to her and the staff were all in tears seeing her reaction. She enjoyed talking about it for days to come and showing her family. Telling me “I will treasure that forever”. It was a small gesture that meant so much.
Whether it is helping a young mother to do the school run for a final time, getting a shout out from a celebrity or enabling a trip to the seaside – please do not underestimate the impact this has for the palliative patients and their families. It can be a morale boost for the patient, family and staff.
Hospice care is about bringing out moments of joy even in the saddest times.
Niamh Eve is matron of the inpatient unit, St Helena Hospice, Colchester