Frank (name changed) was in his early 50s when I met him. His sister had been caring for him but had abandoned him; his daughter was estranged. He would have been forgotten by his community if not for Frank crying out in pain day and night. The screams of pain was what brought a Hospice Africa Uganda community volunteer worker (CVW) to Frank. She found a man on his own, in a small room with no bed in immense, endless pain, a wound covered with flies and smelling foul.
He was immediately referred to the Little Hospice Hoima team who gave him pain relief and cleaned his wound. This allowed his carers to return to care for him, as they wanted to. Frank slept for the first time in months and as weak as he was, he smiled.
Visiting Frank 2 weeks later, he was able to walk 800m to be closer to the family, powered mostly by his determination to be with them. The oral liquid morphine was keeping the pain at bay, but only just. Even in his struggle his smile was brilliant as he said to me, “Thank you so much Madame Zena – you have sent angels to look after me”.
In that moment I felt the privilege of contribution I have made working at HAU. And it further confirmed my huge respect for the nurses, doctors, clinical officers and CVWs daily supporting and caring for those who have made their contributions and are at the end of their lives.
Frank lived only a couple more weeks, but in that time he had the opportunity to eat his favourite foods, laugh in the company of neighbours, friends and family, make peace with his daughter and come to terms with being at the end of his life.
It is with people like Frank that I am reminded what it means to be with patients who are coming to the end of their life and in some small way share this experience with them. It truly has been a honour to work at HAU these last three years; I will remember Frank and the patients like him I have had the privilege of meeting.
This article was originally published in the HAU newsletter and is published here with permission.