Patient & Family Stories

A Day in the Life of Hospice at Home

My name is Alison and I work as a Health Care Assistant (HCA) for the Hospice at Home (H@H) Team at Hospice of the Valleys, we care for patients overnight in their own homes, within the Blaenau Gwent area.

I wanted to share my experience of working as a HCA  for the hospice throughout the Coronavirus pandemic and how my colleagues and I have had to adapt to continue to provide care safely to vulnerable patients of the Hospice at Home Service.

A typical shift starts at 10pm when I arrive at the patient’s home ready to provide care overnight whilst the family catch up on some much needed rest, knowing their loved one is being cared for and all of their needs are being met during the night.

Before Coronavirus, I would arrive at my patient’s home dressed in my uniform, however since the pandemic many things have changed and now I arrive in full personal protective equipment (PPE).  This includes an apron, gloves and a surgical face mask to help protect my patient, their family and myself.

Initially I found arriving in full PPE difficult, especially if it was the first time meeting the patient and family.  They were unable to see my face and it just seemed so impersonal not being able to see my facial expressions or a friendly smile at such a difficult time in their lives.  I found myself using my eyes more when communicating so that they could read me a little better when I was talking, though it did not feel natural it made it a little easier.  The face mask also made communicating difficult, it can muffle speech and I felt it was a little harder to breathe easily when talking.

Wearing full PPE for a 9 hour shift could be very uncomfortable especially during the summer months when there were some very hot nights.  The fitted masks over a long period, would leave marks on my face and make my nose sore, but they were very much needed to keep everyone safe.

During the night I often provide emotional support, when needed, for both patients and their loved ones. To be honest, I have  found it very difficult not being able to give a comforting hug or hold someone’s hand when they were upset and in need of some comfort at a very difficult time in their life.  I could only show empathy with words and on times all a person wants and needs is a comforting hug.  I am a caring person by nature which is why I work in palliative care and not being able to offer this contact made it extremely hard for me.

I am immensely proud to work as part of the Hospice at Home Team and feel very privileged to be invited into a patient’s home to provide care at such an emotional and difficult time in their lives.  I have met some wonderful families during my 5 years working for the hospice and I’m proud to work with such a great multi-disciplinary team providing invaluable clinical care and support to the people of Blaenau Gwent.

Stay safe everyone in these challenging times, we will get there together.

Alison Foote, Health Care Assistant

Childhood Bereavement

It is estimated that 92% of young people experience some form of bereavement by the age of 16 in the UK.

The vast majority of children will cope with support from their family, friends and school community, but for those who are unable to be supported in this way, the Hospice bereavement team may be able to help.

Although grief is a normal life experience Western society tends to avoid talk about death and dying which can make some of us reluctant to talk about grief, particularly to children and young people.  At the Hospice, specialist bereavement practitioners are on hand to provide support.  Children cope and respond best when supported by those trusted adults in their life who know them best. We can support family members to find the words to talk to their children and offer reassurance.  We offer consultancy and training to professionals to raise awareness of bereavement and grief in children and young people and how to support someone who is bereaved.

The Hospice can also offer individual support for those with more complex bereavement needs.

Running in her Dad’s Memory

Charlotte Ralph has raised almost £2000 for Hospice of the Valleys by running the Newport Marathon in memory of her dad. Charlotte’s father, Andrew was a keen runner himself and had been a member of the Lliswerry Runners for around seven years and took part in several half and full marathons. It wasn’t until Charlotte left university that she began joining her Dad on his runs and then joined the Lliswerry Runners herself.

Initially Charlotte would struggle to keep up, saying:

“At first I was always behind him but he would always run with me and never leave me behind,”

Through commitment and perseverance Charlotte became fitter and faster and could finally keep up with her dad:

“When I got faster he would always say that ‘I had age on my side’, unfortunately, when he got ill he had to give up running which he hated.”

Even after having to give up his own running, Andrew was so supportive of his daughter that he would be at every single race, always keen to spur her on.

This year, Charlotte took part in her first ever marathon in her dad’s memory, raising funds for the Hospice who supported him in the final stages of his illness. Taking on such a big challenge not only demonstrates the special relationship between Charlotte and her father, but shows Charlotte’s natural determination to overcoming obstacles to reach positive outcomes even in spite of devastating circumstances.

Charlotte has said that she chose the Hospice of the Valleys because of the “great support network” they provided for the family during her dad’s cancer battle. And that:

“After my father passed away they called to see how we were and were just amazing. As I had never done a marathon before I knew it would be something that I could do to raise money for them.” Charlotte also wants to say a special thanks to the Lliswerry running club who helped in her fundraising.

Harold’s Story

Pam Hopkins experienced first-hand the support that the hospice and more specifically the CARIAD service could offer. Her husband Harold was initially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in December 2014, however this later changed to Lewy Body Dementia with Parkinsonism. Originally Pam was reluctant to receive support, but she praised the patience of the nurse who persevered so that Harold and the rest of the family could access the support they needed almost two years later.

“The nurse was wonderful and would ring me every month to see how Harold was and to check on how me and my daughter Sarah were coping”.

Over time the clinical team developed a strong relationship with Pam and Sarah and made them aware of the varied support that the hospice and the CARIAD service could provide for them all.

The whole family were able to benefit from not only practical support, but the Hospice at Home service enabled Pam and Sarah to have a break for a few hours or to get a good night’s sleep. Both Harold and Sarah also benefited greatly from reflexology. The therapist was also able to provide emotional support for Pam who would look forward to her visits at home.

“The hospice’s intervention came at a critical time for us and my husband was very well looked after at the end of his life by the hospice team”.