'Angels of life' strive to keep hearts and hopes alive
Right, clinical nurse manager Margaret Wilkie (front) with staff members, from left, Barbara Flynn, Mairead Claffey and Deirdre OBrien, at the Specialist Palliative Care Unit, St Vincent's Care Centre, Athlone. photograph: james flynn
A homecare team in the Midlands and the patients they attend offer a profound insight into palliative care
When I came in John was sitting on a tired couch by the wall, his body bent over his knees and he was shaking. Clare Baxter had her arms around him. The room was sparse with a bed under the window opposite. Baxter whispered into his ear and enveloped him for some time in a secure hug, before leaving the room.
“Well,” I said, “you’re very good to see me. I know you’re not well and I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Not at all,” he wheezed. “You’re welcome. Sit down.”
A small fire burned in the grate, competing with the draught from under the constantly opening and closing doors. There were children and grandchildren around, bicycles in the hall, or thrown in the front garden.
“I want to give up,” he said. “I want to die off in my sleep and I don’t want any more treatment. Everybody is hoping that I will put up a fight. Don’t give up, they say. They don’t know what they are talking about.
“Clare Baxter knows what she’s talking about. She knows when I am down. She accepts me totally.”
Clare Baxter is one of the palliative homecare team in Mullingar. There is no inpatient hospice in the Midlands, the southeast or the northeast, even though the numbers requiring hospice services nationally will increase, because of a growing and ageing population and life-prolonging treatments.
It is the unmatched hospice homecare teams – the angels of life – who keep heart and hope alive here.
“She knows what she’s talking about. She got everything for me,” assures John, “and she is always here.”
John is a fine-looking man of stocky build, with a head of curvy hair, swept back from his forehead. I am silent. I sit nearer him. I am so frightened by the reality that John is facing, and I have few resources to handle it.
I stare at the mountains of medication on the small table. I am startled by his acceptance and he must see it on my face, because he reaches out and puts his arms around me.
“You have to die, Marie Louise. You cannot get out of this world alive. I want to die in my own house at the fire, with my family and my neighbours around.
“The palliative homecare team are going to help me to do that.”
I am starting to see what palliative care is all about.
Later that day, sitting at a meeting at the South Westmeath Day Hospice unit in Athlone, I am privileged to be around the Midland homecare team’s discussion of patients, their living lives, and their future.