A hospice in Devon is expanding its hospice at home service in response to local needs. After Hospiscare launched Hospiscare@Home in the town of Seaton in East Devon three years ago, it proved so popular that some patients in neighbouring Axminster swapped GP practices to access the service. Now it’s set to extend its reach so more people are able to be cared for and die at home, if that is their wish.
Gwennie Stevens, 73, experienced the service first hand and explains how Hospiscare@Home nurses supported her husband, Keith, who died of cancer in 2017.
“Keith was 65 when we discovered he had bowel cancer. It was very sudden and a shock. He didn’t feel unwell, hadn’t lost weight, was eating normally and generally felt fine. It was only discovered because Keith did one of those standard health tests you get offered at age 65.
He quickly got treatment, had a couple of operations, a spell in intensive care and took chemo tablets, which made him feel awful. But he slowly recovered and life went on as normal. Then in 2012 a scan revealed the cancer was still there and there was nothing more they could do. They said Keith probably only had three months left to live.
Keith just carried on as normal. He loved going out on his motorbike, cutting the lawn, he enjoyed doing everyday tasks and never said if he was in any pain. Our lives didn’t change much until 2017, so he had five years longer than the three months they originally gave him.
But his health deteriorated and Keith ended up on the ward at the hospice. I didn’t really know anything about Hospiscare until that point. They were lovely on the ward but Keith was bored and really wanted to come home. We found out if Keith changed from Axminster Surgery to Seaton, we would be eligible to have the 24 hr Hospiscare@Home service. We felt guilty because we liked our local GPs but it was the only way to get Keith home. So we swapped.
At the point of leaving the ward to come home Keith was told he may only have a matter of days left. But coming home seemed to revitalise him. Our kids, grandkids and friends would visit, he’d get out of his chair and potter around. He was good as gold, perfectly alright at home.
The Hospiscare@Home team would come in and do all the treatments. We didn’t need to go off for any appointments at the doctor’s surgery or the hospital. It all came to us.
Keith got on so well with the team. He really looked forward to the girls coming over. We had such good banter with them, we were always laughing and one of the nurses was always singing. Keith would say the nurses were little angels.
On Good Friday 2017, Keith really went downhill. Our daughter and granddaughter were visiting. They had been to see a band play that Keith liked, they played him the music on their phone and he tapped his toe along to the tune. But then he took a turn for the worse and the last thing he said to me was, ‘You better get the Hospiscare nurses, I’m in too much pain’.
Mary Ashby, the Clinical Nurse Specialist, came and made him much more comfortable and for a week the Hospiscare@Home team were here as often as I needed them. They did everything to keep Keith out of pain and relaxed. We put records on and played music. The nurses would tell me Keith could still hear it. I held his hand in bed all night that last week and he felt so cold, will power had been keeping him going. I know he wanted to make it to our 50th wedding anniversary on 10 June, but he died on 21 April in his own bed, which is where he wanted to be.
After the diagnosis of only having a few days left on leaving the ward he actually lasted nine weeks. I’m sure that’s because he was at home. He was so relieved and happy to be home.
When he died I called the Hospiscare@Home team. Keith wanted to be buried in his motorbike gear, full leathers, gloves, boots and with his helmet by his feet, and the nurses helped me do this. I don’t suppose I should say it, but there were comical moments. We couldn’t get one of his gloves on properly, but together we did it, just as he wished.
We had a really good send off for Keith. His funeral was a nice day, everyone was outside reminiscing about him. We collected over £400 for Hospiscare and Keith had ‘Riding with the Angels’ on his headstone.
We desperately need this service in the Axe Valley. I know other people who are really struggling because they can’t access this support. Enabling people to die at home, to give people that choice, is invaluable. The nurses are experts, their help and advice is second to none. Anytime I needed them 24/7 they were there, like part of the family, it’s really marvellous what they do. I’d want them to look after me at home if I was at the end of my life.
It’s so important to have the choice to stay at home, no one wants to be away from home.”
For more information visit Hospiscare