Referring to a celebration in the same breath as talking about a hospice, seems uncomfortable but if I have learnt anything from a recent visit to the Victoria Hospice, it’s that celebrating life is a huge part of the hospice experience.
Nestled in a quiet corner of Victoria Hospital, the hospice is cottage like in appearance with a radiating warmth that belies the nature of its existence.
Stepping through the sliding doors, sunshine streams into the day room through large rear windows which open out onto vibrant floral displays and the lush greenery of the sizeable private garden.
Bright and varied art adorns the walls above comfy chairs, a communal dining area and a fire for the colder days.
“There are myriad of reasons why people come here,” explained volunteer driver Mike Liddle. “And what they can do at the hospice ranges from creative activities to simple socialising or even having a wee whisky – who’s going to deny you that?! There is a huge range of things they put on for the patients here.”
Mike has been driving for the hospice for four years and admits that although he had reservations about the job to begin with, working at the hospice has changed his view completely. “I am like the rest of the general public in that I have a preconceived vision of what a hospice is, but now I see it is somewhere to die with dignity – somewhere that provides pleasure and relief and comradeship in the days of your life when the illness is over-riding, it creates a different environment for them in which they can be normal.
“I hope that God forbid, in the years ahead, someone will volunteer to take me to a hospice.”
NHS staff from Victoria Hospice organised a celebratory event to mark the centre’s 20th anniversary on September 26 where volunteers, staff and guests could come and share their memories.
Many families in Fife have seen their loved ones cared for as they near the end of their lives within the Victoria Hospice and the staff have provided many patients and these families with support and help through the toughest of tests.
The evening provided a time to reflect as well as hear stories from carers and patients stories heard over cake and refreshments.
Scott Sweaton, senior charge nurse, said: “People think that it is doom and gloom and upset. It’s not that environment at all. We will more often than not admit patients for symptom control – for a period of assessment to see if we can do anything to improve their symptoms, and get them home again.
“We would not deny that a big part of what we do is end of life care but its not the only part and that’s where the service has changed over the last 20 years – everyone thinks you come in to die, that’s not always the case. Some people do, but a lot don’t and people need to know that.”
Dr Steinunn Boyce, consultant in Palliative Care Medicine at the hospice explained further: “There is the day hospice which is run by nurses, where all the people who are well enough, and who are living at home, can come in once a week to socialise.
‘‘They can also meet the team or a doctor if they need to and access complimentary therapies such as physiotherapy, art therapy, music therapy. It is all about trying to optimise people’s quality of life, trying to make the best of what, for many, is a situation they will not want to be in.”
The team is also keen to highlight the importance of talking about death.
Scott said: “There is this whole taboo around death and dying and as a country we struggle with it. As a palliative care specialit, we are trying to get people to be more proactive about talking about it.
“Over the last 20 years, and particularly in the last year or so, there has been more emphasis in the public eye on advance care planning such as adverts about wills and power of attorney, which comes hand-in-hand with what we’re trying to do here – make people aware and that it doesn’t have to be scary.
“It is part of life that you are going to die and we need to be more accepting of that.”
Over the last two decades the service and staff at Victoira Hospice has left an impact on the families that have had contact with it and it is not unusual for them to continue to support the hospice as a way to give back.
Scott said: “I am overwhelmed by the support we continue to receive from families and friends whose loved ones have required our care and spent time in the hospice, some fundraise and some volunteer, their efforts mean that we can give patients a beautiful garden area, make the hospice homely and provide activities for the patients to participate in.”
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer you can contact Teri Perry, Volunteer Service Manager on 01592 648072 or email email@example.com.