When I first walked into Daughters of Charity Hospice Centre in Limuru, Kenya as a palliative care volunteer, I had never seen a dead person. Maybe in movies but in real life, this would definitely be my first. And that is what the word hospice meant to me at that time—death.
Unfortunately, it happened that on that very day, a man who had been battling with stomach cancer for two years at the hospice finally breathed his last. The other two caregivers who were working on the day shift asked that I give a hand in moving him to the miniature mortuary room where the family would have time to view him before they took him to another mortuary. Suddenly, I felt numb. Fear grabbed me as we walked to the man’s room. On seeing that I had grown some cold feet, the other caregivers assured me that it would be okay.
On seeing his contorted face that looked as though he was grimacing, I was overcome with sadness and became hysterical. That contorted face would remain etched in my mind and my nightmares for so long. The other caregivers were non-chalant and wondered why I was so sad.
“Are you related to the deceased,” Jane asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Then stop being dramatic. The man is in a good place now. He is not feeling pain anymore. He went to be with his maker,” she said smiling and that kind of made me stronger.
The man’s family members were not as sorrowful as I thought they would be. “We had made them ready for this,” Jane said to me as we placed the body on the viewing table and folded his arms nicely as though he was just sleeping.
After the family went with their dead, I wondered why the need for a hospice if someone is going to die anyway. Why not remain at home, buy the patient some pain meds and wait for them to die. And so I asked the nun running the hospice.
“Families bring their terminally sick relatives to the hospice because of the palliative care we give them. If they were to remain at home, the family members would succumb to the pressure of taking care of their sick. They would have to abandon their careers, forget other family members and all that. But with a hospice, they feel free and the sick do not feel as though they are a bother to their relatives,” she said.
Later on, I did my round through the hospice and found that there were awesome facilities that would make anyone bring their terminally ill relatives there. They included:
From donations and the upkeep fee that the patient’s family members paid, the hospice was able to provide delicious and nutritious meals for the patients depending on their dietary needs.
Adult diapers and loose clothing
The patients were dressed in loosely fitting clothes that were comfortable for them. They were also given diapers especially for those who were completely immobile or were having incontinence. Those who were having a problem of wiping their butts because of say, ‘arms too short to wipe‘ were given toilet wiping aids.
Handrails in showers
The showers were fitted with handrails so that the patients kept balance while bathing. The showers were only for those patients who were somehow independent and could bathe on their own. The others were washed by the caregivers who ensured that the patient’s privacy was adhered to.
Good hospital beds
The hospital beds were really good with rails for safety just in case the patient rolled over in their sleep and fell on the floor. Sister Eileen, the nun in charge of the hospice, told me that they had been checked against the FDA bed entrapment guidelines and had things such as bed bumpers, wedges and padded rails to prevent bed rail entrapment. They also had good flexible mattresses that could bend as the patient’s medical bed was adjusted. The nun running the center also told me that there were a few heated mattress pads for use during the cold weather.
What the Hospice Means to me?
After doing my rounds at the hospice and getting acquainted with the staff, patients and managers over the three months that I volunteered there, I had a different story. The hospice was not just about death.
It was a place of hope, finding oneself and accepting the inevitability of death. It was where I made friends with this one gentleman called David (was suffering from prostate cancer) who said that he wanted to marry me because I was taking care of him so well. Unfortunately he passed away before he could realize this dream.
The hospice for me was a place where I deeply reflected about life. Since we had these spiritual sessions with the sick, they narrated to us their life experiences, successes and regrets. It is one place where I learnt to live my life fully and happily without looking back.