When former primary school teacher and mother-of-two Esther Smith, 69, from Northchurch, developed liver disease three years ago, her condition became progressively worse. The situation came to head about a year ago when Esther had a nasty fall at home and injured herself badly. Husband and former Royal Engineer Graham, 65, bandaged her up as best he could but after being told to phone 999 by his local surgery he didn’t know where to turn next for the help he so desperately needed.
After being referred to The Hospice of St Francis by their local GP, Graham says he no longer felt they were alone but had somewhere to turn when the going got tough.
Here he tells their story:
“About a year ago I almost went under. Esther had fallen at home and was bleeding badly so I hastily did what I could and bandaged her up. Esther had had several nasty falls and I was crying out for someone to help us having coped alone for so long.
“When we went to see the GP, she could see we were struggling and said ‘have you ever considered the Hospice?’ It wasn’t something we had thought about before but she put us in touch and about two days later this angel called Jenny arrived at our door.
“Jenny, one of the Hospice’s clinical nurse specialists, has a marvellous style – if you could bottle it and sell it you would make a fortune. She listens, she contributes, she put our minds at ease and told us not to worry about all the things we were struggling with, that she could help sort them out. From that moment on, I thought ‘we are no longer on our own, there is someone there to help’. I went from feeling despair to feeling like we’d been saved, like a great weight had been lifted.
“From then on Jenny would come and see us every couple of weeks to see how we were getting on. Other people came too. Wendy, one of the Hospice’s Occupational Therapists, came to look at what extra equipment we might need in the house to help with Esther’s mobility and they helped us to claim disability allowances. All these things made life easier and contributed to the feeling that we were no longer alone.
“However, Esther’s condition continued to deteriorate and things became harder and harder. We talked about what would happen at the end. The nadir came one Monday morning. The previous week had been very difficult. Esther could not get comfortable and was waking me up every half an hour to scratch her back as itchiness is a symptom of her illness.
“One morning, after a terrible night, I had woken early and gone downstairs to make breakfast. I hadn’t been downstairs for long when I heard screaming. I rushed upstairs to find Esther on the floor in our bedroom. She had become disorientated and had fallen over.
“I helped her up and immediately called the Hospice. Jenny, along with Healthcare Assistant Penny, came and it was like the cavalry arriving. They were calm and helpful, dressed Esther’s wounds and helped her back into bed so she could rest. I explained that I was at the end of my tether and struggling to cope. Jenny said ‘let’s see what we can do’. She phoned the Hospice and arranged for Esther to be admitted the following day. That night was the worst night of all. Every half an hour Esther would wake up for one thing or another but I knew it was coming to an end and help was at hand.
“It still has an effect on me coming up to the Hospice. It is such an incredible place. Everybody here is so wonderful. From the moment the door opens there is help and support. I walk up from our home in Northchurch and when I get here I see humanity, love, care and understanding radiating from it. Everybody is so focused on the patients. They wrap themselves around those who are seriously ill. The doctors only do things where there is a value in doing it, they think about what they are doing and the patient is always at the centre. It is clear they do not want people to suffer unduly.
“The nurses are astounding and always smiling and positive. It is just a marvellous place.
“The nature of Esther’s illness is that it goes in up and down in waves. The week before she was admitted we had come up to the Hospice for a fitness class with Physiotherapist, Manisha. I was bowled over by the effort she was putting into people who were sick and dying. She was so positive and she was passing on that dynamism to her class. She couldn’t have been more positive about what her class were doing if they had been Olympic athletes.
“The support we’ve received from the Hospice for Esther has been incredible. If Esther was the Queen she couldn’t have been better looked after.”
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