“Unfortunately, several years ago my great uncle passed away due to a brain hemorrhage. It was a peaceful passing, and at the time we thought it was perhaps a blessing. My great uncle had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for several years, and towards the end of his life, the affects of the disease had only gotten worse. My great uncle had always been a very active man, a farmer in his youth who loved the great outdoors. Along with these interests came a fierce independence, and he made it very clear that when it came to it, he was very opposed to being given any kind of care that wasn’t from his wife in his own home.
Though his passing deeply affected my family, there was an odd relief that accompanied the grief- my great Uncle would never be admitted into a hospice. It’s understandable to think that a hospice, or any end of life care unit, is a dreary and depressing place where people lose their independence, dignity and ability to care for themselves. It’s easy to think that your loved one will be committed to staring at four walls for the rest of their life. It is only years later that I realised this is not the case.
I came across Teesside Hospice online when looking for a volunteering placement for the summer. Of course I had heard of it before, having frequently purchased from the charity shops, but I never fully understood what the organisation was. I knew it was something to do with end of life care, probably involved lots of doctors and a quietly solemn atmosphere, but what I was met with on my induction day was completely unexpected. The place has such a light and cheery atmosphere- matched (if not exceeded by) the enthusiasm of the staff. This struck me almost immediately upon arrival, and my preconceived notions of the hospice continued to be challenged throughout the day.
I was informed that yes, the hospice does offer excellent palliative care but that’s just some of the things they do. It also offers symptom management, emotional and psychological support, with a key goal of helping patients manage their illness. This approach really surprised me, I really resonated with the idea of empowering the patient. You didn’t go into Teesside hospice because you had lost the battle and had to give up your freedom. It’s not an admittance of weakness or something to be ashamed of. It’s not the place my great Uncle thought it was.
Time spent at the hospice is definitely not boring either. It’s not a left to your own devices- wallow in self pity kind of place. One member of staff that I spent some time with one afternoon- Anne Hall- had plenty of ideas for activities and events. Unfortunately, due to covid, these ideas have had to be put on hold but previous to the pandemic the hospice seemed to be a pretty active and vibrant place. From a motorbike rally to the visitation of a pet duck, patients seemed to be frequently entertained with the weird and wonderful. Anne hopes for the hospice to return to these kind of goings on in the near future.
My role as a therapeutic volunteer will hopefully add something positive. I’m an avid fan of puzzles, creative writing, arts and crafts and as you can probably tell- I like a good chat. The hospice absolutely tends to emotional, psychological as well as physical needs with a great sensitivity. But it is also a fun, vibrant and inspiring place to be. It didn’t occur to me until my induction day that had my great Uncle not have passed away those few years ago, he would probably have spent time at the hospice. And on reflection, I would have been very glad. I honestly believe that the hospice would have improved his quality of life as well as his confidence when facing the struggles of Parkinson’s disease. He was adamant that when he came to it, he wanted to stay at home. But in reality, I think he might have actually quite enjoyed it.”
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