‘Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said…something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.’
– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
You may have seen that I am running a marathon in October. It’s a huge personal challenge as I only really started running last year but I am very excited (and only a bit terrified!) at the prospect. Quite unexpectedly, it turns out that I do enjoy running! I’ve decided that it’s about time that I started thinking about raising money with this run as I think it’ll make it easier to train once I’m doing it for a good reason!
I want to raise money for Sam Beare Hospice and its sister hospice in Woking. Although, as a doctor, I try to save lives and cure illness, I am realistic. This isn’t always possible. Some patients are just too sick and their disease is just too advanced. And this is when the palliative care teams become so valuable that I wish I could give them…well, everything.
Sam Beare and Woking Hospices need to raise £8 million per year to keep their services running. To quote from their website, ‘hospice care is based on the belief that each person is more than their illness, and that each of us has unique physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.’ I can do what I can with the physical needs, but the others are so much more important and so easily neglected.
It’s going to sound strange, but I am proud of the care that I give my patients who are dying. And not just patients who are dying of cancer, although there are too many of them. I specialise in lung diseases and am haunted by how my patient’s lives can waste away as their lungs fail them.
Because it does not take much to try and give someone a ‘good’ death, if you can believe such a thing exists. If they are in the place that they wish to die, be it home, hospice or hospital. If they are comfortable with no symptoms, surrounded by the people they love. If their wishes have been met, and they’ve made it to their final goals. If they have made choices about their treatment that we could facilitate and support. Palliative care teams and the hospice staff can help patients and their families plan for and try to accept death, to limit regret. There is no way to ameliorate the pain of bereavement, but it can certainly be made worse if the death is overshadowed by confusion and suffering.
Selfishly, *I* need the hospices and the people who work in them almost as much as my patients need them. In the years that I have been working, I have seen more death than I can remember. I am ashamed to say that most do not affect me, but there are certain patients who have broken my heart and it still aches when I think of them. These last few weeks have been particularly hard and I feel physically bruised by them. They’re too young, or it’s too quick, or it’s so unexpected…it’s too much. I know I couldn’t do my job properly without the help of the hospices. Their scope is so much broader than mine, their support more holistic and, frankly, I’m just not strong enough.
So now that I have thoroughly depressed you, I’m going to ask for money! If you wanted to support these hospices, please see their website for ways to donate, or you can sponsor me for my marathon via my Just Giving page.
UPDATE: You can now text to donate too by texting LIVY52 £(1, 2, 5 or 10) to 70070.
Thank you, it means everything…