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A personal vote of thanks for Hospice

Feb. 3, 2017



In 1994, when Dame Cicely Saunders presented me with my medical degree in Southwark Cathedral in London, I had no idea just how much I was going to go on to appreciate her hospice movement.

Cicely Saunders started work as a volunteer nurse in 1948 and later trained as a doctor, devoting herself to the care of the dying, after watching a friend spend the last 2 months of his life dying in a busy hospital ward.

"You matter because you are you and you matter until the last moment of your life. We will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully but to live until you die." - Dame Cicely Saunders.

Dame Cicely opened St Christopher's Hospice in London in 1967, which she created as a medical, teaching and research facility dedicated to the physical, emotional and spiritual care of the dying. This was the first of many hospices which have sprung up worldwide, transforming the way we look after the dying.

Hospices provide truly specialist end-of-life care and a range of services which enhance the lives of patients, carers and families. The science of pain management and symptom control has created a whole new medical speciality – palliative care.

As family doctors, we are honoured to care for our patients from the cradle to the grave, bearing witness to the joys and the heartaches of the cycle of life. Death is inevitable, but a painful death is not, and when death is expected we work with patients and their families to ensure that there is no suffering and that life is lived until the very end. This would be very difficult to achieve without the support of hospice and we are forever indebted to the hospice for their advice to us, their care of our patients in their homes and their care of our patients in hospice.

I am not only grateful to the hospice for the professional support I get in caring for my patients, hospice have been very good to my family. I cannot thank them enough for looking after my father in law, who died of cancer three years ago. He had several short stays at Mercy Hospice before being able to die as he wished, quietly at home surrounded by his loved ones. Hospice provide all sorts of resources to make the end of life easier at home, from ripple mattresses to prevent bed sores, pumps to dispense pain relief continuously, carers to look after the needs of the patient, psychological support and the most compassionate nurses and doctors. Not everyone chooses or needs to actually stay in hospice itself, but for those who do it is a remarkably positive and uplifting experience. I treasure the memories I have of a close young friend who died in North Shore Hospice a couple of years ago. We were able to laugh and joke about her checking into the best five-star hotel on the Shore, her room even had a lemon tree on the balcony for her afternoon gin and tonics. As her friend, rather than her doctor, I watched in admiration at the outstanding love and care she was given by the hospice staff, and also the wonderful support they gave her husband and children.

It is not only cancer patients that hospice look after. I was extremely grateful when hospice sprung to my aid to help me manage the last few days of life of a lovely elderly gentleman. He was dying of heart failure and required lots of pain relief. At the very end, he lost his ability to swallow and could no longer get pain killers down. Within hours the hospice was there, despite it being Christmas, setting up a morphine pump so he could stay peacefully at home.

Our hospices are charities, and although they receive some government funding they rely on donations to ensure they can provide free care to those that need it. Please, if you are able, do support your local hospice financially. Go to www.hospicenorthshore.org.nz to find out how you can help our local hospice. In gratitude for what they did for my father in law, my parents are opening up their garden to support Mercy Hospice, as part of the Heroic Garden Festival on 19th and 20th February. A must-see event on gardeners' calendars, this Festival gives attendees exclusive access to some of Coatesville's and Auckland City's most beautiful private gardens. For more information about tickets please go to heroicgardens.org.nz. Your support will be much appreciated.

By Dr Heidi MacRae