death

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One of the first things they handed to me when I was brought into Sobell House Hospice, just over a week ago, was a tube of NHS own-brand KY Jelly. Now, you can stop that right now. I know how far up your forehead your eyebrows just went. And just for that, I’m going to make you wait till the end to find out the importance of water-based lubrication.

I came into Sobell thinking big. Why weren’t my legs working? Would they ever work again? Was this the start of the collapse of my body? Was this what starting to die feels like? Was this going to hurt? If I couldn’t breathe very well now, did this mean I’d get so bad I’d frankly suffocate in my bed? I became acutely aware that I suppose it’s all very well swanning around talking about how to live with terminal cancer (and look! I’ve won awards for mine! Have you seen my silver Sony?) when you’re fairly well and can do stuff. Lying in a bed you can’t get out of was something very new and scary. I know there may be people reading this for whom this is every day life. And can I just say: respect. I do not know how you do it. I’ve been spoiled by my own independence for so long, that I had to fight to get my head around being dependent on others for the time being. Not to put too fine a point on it, a few weeks ago I was working five days a  week. Now kind ladies are pulling down my knickers for me as they put me on the commode.

And how they are kind. Not in a sickly-sweet, do-goody, we’re trying not to embarrass you kind of way. But in a totally professional, honestly you couldn’t do anything we haven’t seen before and do you need a few minutes to yourself for some privacy kind of way. I have never felt so at ease so fast. At ease and safe. Safe. Safe. Sobell isn’t a general ward on a hospital. These are the experts. Yes, experts in providing a good death. But in making the most of life too. A quick quiz question for you. How many people in the UK go into a hospice and come out again? The answer’s 50%. Respite care is a huge part of what goes on here. Not wishing to tempt fate, let’s assume I’m going home fairly soon. So far, I’ve had the care of doctors dedicated to this centre for a diagnosis and ongoing treatment. Nurses and carers do everything for me, including a cup of Ovaltine and a chat at 3 when you can’t sleep. They find vases for flowers from friends and show your husband how to convert the seating in the room into an overnight bed so he can stay through the long lonely hours of the night. (In fact, entire families and their pets can stay if need be.) Physiotherapists visit to show leg-strengthening exercises and ways of getting back walking using a Zimmer frame. An Occupational Therapist is booked to visit my home to see if there are ways of improving things there for me. Two massage therapists and a reflexologist rub my feet. (Not all at once!) I get visits from not one but two Bobs for pastoral care and music therapy. They’re called, in a typical touch of Sobell humour, Bob The God and Bob The Music.

Sobell does big. It makes a big difference not only to patients’ lives, but of those who love them. Support for friends and family is freely given.

And Sobell does small. It’s always the little touches that hit home, isn’t it? The famous drinks trolley that makes the round twice a day offering a nip of whatever you fancy. Or just a large tonic, in my case. (My friends will never believe me, but it’s true!) The design that ensures that every room looks onto gardens that are tended by green-fingered volunteers. The fact that whoever’s being looked after, they’re made to feel in control. It’s what makes life better for them, not the staff rota. The meals are homemade. I could go on.

So why water-based lubricant? Simple. After a while of having oxygen pumped up your nose, it can get a bit sore inside and out. There’s some technical reason why you shouldn’t put oil or grease near O2 (I seem to remember something alarming about explosions), so KY Jelly’s just perfect to soothe things. Don’t say you never learn anything reading these things.

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