Going blindly ahead

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Her husband, Adolfo Francisco, was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in February last year, and she therefore has the experience both of spiritual care provider, and as the wife of a patient. Rev. de Riverol spoke to ehospice about her work, as well as her experience of her husband’s care.

From September this year, I will be the Anglican Priest in Charge in La Palma in a self supporting capacity (SSM). I celebrate a Holy Communion service at the hospital chapel once a month and I lead other services at two Spanish Roman Catholic churches.

End of life care ministry is something I am very interested in. I have the role of chaplain at the state Spanish hospital, the only one on the island, which serves a population of 86,000.

I liaise with the Roman Catholic chaplain who often invites me to accompany him on his visits to some of his patients. The admissions department also lets me know when there are British patients, so that I can provide them with spiritual care.

I am also a volunteer for the British Consulate, so I am sometimes contacted in cases of accidents or bereavement.

Palliative care in La Palma

There are 18 rooms in the palliative care unit and each en suite room has two patients. There is a scarcity of beds in the hospital, so sometimes patients from other departments occupy the palliative care unit.

There is a sitting room for patients at the end of the corridor, where there is a refreshments machine and toilet facilities. Many relatives accompany their family overnight and will sleep in a chair by the bed.

I would say that at any one time there will be about four patients who are terminally ill and reaching the end of their life. There are no hospices in La Palma. When I have tried to tell people about hospices, I find that they are quite horrified. In my experience, people tend not to talk about death in Spanish culture.
I have been in personal contact with some patients whom I have met through friends in the Outpatients Department, when they are undergoing chemotherapy. I have then visited them in their homes, at their request, and then in hospital.

In some cases I have attended their funeral or even conducted it. It is always a privilege to be a part of these times and these rituals, although sometimes, of course, it can be emotionally draining. 

Witnessing my husband’s care

My husband was diagnosed with Grade 3 lung cancer in February 2014 and since then he has undergone more or less continuous cycles of chemotherapy. He will begin another early this month. He also has primary cancerous tumours in the bladder and throat.

He has always been a heavy smoker and continues to smoke! I personally – as a non smoker – have found it difficult that the oncologist has not encouraged him to stop smoking. However, the treatment and the care he has been receiving have been very good. 

My daughters and I have found it very frustrating that we are not really informed much about my husband’s prognosis. When he was first diagnosed, one of the doctors told me that he cannot be cured, but we have never had any indication of how much time my husband has left.

One of our daughters lives on another Canary Island and the other lives in London. They have travelled to be with us as often as possible.

I often feel as if I am on another planet and some information about my husband’s illness is simply a “NO-GO” area which is under lock and key.

I find it very difficult – even unfair – that patients and families are not involved in the whole treatment process, including spiritual and emotional factors. As a family, it is difficult for us to make plans, but in the end we just have to go blindly ahead.

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