Sunday, 17 December 2017
LINDA HOFFMAN believes in small acts of kindness. She has been a nurse at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed for 20 years and says she and her colleagues always try their best to fulfil the final wishes of their patients.
For example, receiving a small gift on Christmas Day or being allowed to have a beloved pet at their bedside can feel very special to a patient.
That in turn helps their families cope better with the inevitable, knowing that their loved ones are well-cared for.
The hospice provides palliative care, counselling and complementary therapies on a residential and outpatient basis. Users can attend wellbeing clinics or stay for one or more nights if they need more specialist attention. They can also arrange home visits.
At Christmas time most patients prefer to be at home for the day or just a few hours but some cannot do this as they require intensive treatment and supervision.
Those who stay are cooked a roast dinner with all the trimmings and their families may visit whenever they like and can stay overnight if they want to. Miss Hoffman says: “We try to make Christmas as comfortable as we possibly can. We have to address all the normal work that we do but then we have a Christmas lunch. The patients can have a sherry if they want and families can come in to make it as nice a day as possible.
“Some years it can be really busy but other years it is really quiet. I think our main effort is to try to make it a nice day for everyone.”
Miss Hoffman recalls how a year ago they were caring for Tony Stevens, who used to run the Jet garage in Reading Road, Henley.
“I can’t remember a Christmas quite like that one,” she says. “We moved Christmas itself for Tony because he didn’t think he would be here.”
The staff insist on giving each patient who stays over Christmas a present as a way of making the day as “normal” as possible.
Miss Hoffman says: “It varies from year to year. Last year we gave Christmas tree decorations, another year we gave toiletries — it is just something small.
“Even if the patient is too poorly to take it on board the families appreciate it as it is creating that bit of normality and making the day nice for everyone.
“We welcome pets as they are part of the family. We feel it is nice for patients to be able to see them because those are the things that people miss.
“We have had dogs and cats in and one year we had a white parakeet and it sat on the top of the bed. We had ponies walk through the gates and into the grounds and moved a patient to the window so they could see them.
“It is about doing what we can in the time that we have as sometimes you don’t get very long to know people. It is about finding out what people’s needs are and how you can support them.
“We often have referrals of people who wanted to come here to die and they pass within 48 hours. Even though it is quite a late move to here, we try our best to make it comfortable for them.”
Miss Hoffman, who travels to Joyce Grove from her home in Didcot, says that working at Christmas can be “challenging”, particularly if a patient passes away with the inevitable effect on their loved ones.
“It is very hard if that happens,” she says. “It can take years for families to come to terms with it and can make Christmas a difficult time.
“If we can make the situation a bit more bearable that is what we try to do. It is about making sure their families have what they need. It is particularly difficult at Christmas because the places you need to contact are closed and that can make things even more difficult so we also give advice.” Originally from Sussex, Miss Hoffman wanted to be a nurse from childhood.
She left college just before her 18th birthday and started her training, first in Chichester and then in London, where she learned to be a midwife at the Mothers’ Hospital in Hackney.
“You had to do three years’ general training and two years’ training to be a midwife,” she says.
“Then I came to Henley to work at the former War Memorial Hospital as I was interested in working on the disabled unit. What is now the Chiltern Centre for disabled children used to be in there.
“I worked there around the different departments and stayed about five years.”
Miss Hoffman then went to work at Flint House, the police convalescent home in Goring, before working in care homes, including Thamesfield in Henley.
“I decided to move into care home work because I thought it would be a bit more challenging,” she says.
“People are generally healthier whereas at Sue Ryder we have people who have got symptoms and illnesses to cope with. Here we are looking after people who are quite unwell.”
Miss Hoffman, who lived in Henley for 17 years, called the hospice when she was seeking a new challenge in 1996.
She recalls: “When I came for the interview and saw the building I thought, ‘yes, this will do’. It is a lovely place to work, it is a lovely building. I like that it is not clinical, although it does have its challenges as it is not purpose-built.”
Miss Hoffman, who received a long service award from Sue Ryder in October, has seen a lot of changes in patient treatment over the last 20 years. although the way the staff work remains the same.
She says: “We have to learn a lot about symptom and pain control and things that people with cancer have to deal with and cope with on a daily basis.
“We have to learn how to support them and what you can do to relieve the symptoms at a difficult time in their life while supporting their families at the same time.
“We would have longer stays before but now most stays are quite short and there are more treatment options available than when I first started. Twenty years ago you might have had to say to a patient that there was no treatment available.”
Her daily duties include a medicine round where she tends to the patients, organises the staff and deals with referrals.
“I have to think about whether we have space to take other referrals,” she explains. “Sometimes part of my morning is contacting people to say whether we have got a bed or not. Sometimes we have lots of referrals and sometimes we don’t have the space.
“I try to speak to people’s families every day but if specific problems arise we will always speak to them. It is very important people can feel they are able to trust what we are doing here. The more information we can give the less anxious they are.”
The hospice regularly receives cards and messages of thanks, which the staff appreciate.
One message read: “A feeling of security, a place where kind people have time to listen to you. A safe haven when I was at my lowest.”
Another read: “Thank you for looking after my husband so well. It was a great comfort to know that he was in such lovely surroundings and having the best care.”
Miss Hoffman says: “We all do our very best to achieve the best that we can. A lot of the feedback is around how comfortable the patients have been and relatives are pleased that they were here when they died.
“I have had cards from people to say thank you but we work very much as a team.”
20 December 2016
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