One of the many things I love about being cared for at Sobell House Hospice in Oxford is their state-of-the-art treatments. These people are experts at making sure you’re squeezing as much out of life as possible. (Hospice? Living? Yuh-huh!) Never mind the drugs, what I’m really talking about is the salt water. Or possibly the bubble bath. Or may be it’s the Sunday lunch?
There’s much more to caring for someone with a terminal illness than the medicines and the treatments: although they are incredibly important, of course. Knowing that Sobell is a centre of excellence for palliative care was a solid source of comfort for me in the first few days of coming here, as I learnt to trust myself to these people I didn’t really know. I’ll confess to allowing myself to become very scared for the first few 48 hours or so. The nights were long, I couldn’t walk and I was alone in my room. Lots of thinking time! My independent life had just come to a juddering halt, it was clear that my cancer had at long last caught up with me and I needed to completely readjust my world view. On the morning after being brought in, I was a scared little girl. My breathing was bad, and I was very low. (This taking nothing away from my husband and staff, by the way, who were kind and supportive and loving. But sometimes a patient will need to retreat into themselves to cope with the shock of what’s happening. I needed that time. )
One of the first things I was asked was if I wanted a bath. I think I said no, it was too much bother for them. Very patiently, it was explained that no, it was whether I wanted one. One was on offer, and with a smile they explained it was turbo-charged jacuzzi bath they could get me in and out of with oxygen on. And bubble bath. Well…..you’ve got to try haven’t you? I haven’t been able to have a bath in years because of my mobility and breathing, (yes, yes, we have a shower at home) so the temptation to stretch out and wiggle my toes in hot water was overwhelming. And the effect was almost magical. I was wheeled back to my chair all pink and fluffy, happy and relaxed and, I suddenly realised, with much improved breathing. And all it took was some lavender bubble bath.
This has been mirrored in so many ways here. When I’m happy and settled and relaxed, I thrive. Like any patient would. And there are so many ways they make sure you thrive. Therapists roam the corridors, offering reflexology, acupuncture, massage, or just a nice haircut. There may be more – I haven’t discovered it yet. Friends and family can stay over if they need to. My husband moved into my room after a few days to help care for me and keep me company. I love it. Staff don’t wear uniforms. Everyone offers a chat or cuppa. Every room looks out onto gardens. The meals are all home cooked on site. When I had a chest infection for over a week, staff noticed me hacking away and brought in a nebuliser that created a kind of steam that I could breathe through a sort of large hookah pipe to settle my chest. It was a very strange sensation to be sitting there looking as though I was toking on the biggest bong the NHS could provide – and all that was inside was good old sodium chloride solution. Salt and water!