Sandra Mather first encountered Blythe House back in 2006 when she was a student nurse at the University of Derby, visiting the hospice to learn more about patient therapies and out-patient clinics, including palliative medicine and lymphoedema.
Sandra, who is now a district nurse with the Bakewell and Baslow Team for Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust, regularly refers her own patients to Blythe House’s 24/7 Hospice at Home service, for palliative and end of life care in their own homes.
The Youlgrave resident has a former Blythe House employee to thank in part for her nursing career: Ruth Brown, who set up the Hospice at Home service back in 2016 and only recently retired in March 2021. Ruth inspired Sandra to go to university as a mature student and study to become a nurse.
Sandra said: ‘I have known Ruth for a very long time and it was her who inspired me to undertake my nurse training when I was a patient at Youlgrave and she was a mature nursing student at the practice. Ruth spoke so passionately about her role; it was one of the reasons I decided to study nursing myself.
‘I have always kept in touch with Blythe House throughout my career and work very closely with the Hospice and Helen’s Trust in my role as district nurse, alongside Dr Louise Jordan who’s a GP at Baslow Health Centre and a founding trustee of Helen’s Trust.’
The Hospice at Home service is now supporting Sandra’s own family, after helping her step mother, Lillian to die peacefully at home in February, and providing ongoing care to Sandra’s dad, John who has end stage heart failure.
Sandra explains: ‘Lillian’s illness progressed very quickly – she became symptomatic in October 2020, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer: an unknown primary source and liver metastases. Lillian was a healthcare assistant during her career, so she knew what was coming; things really started to escalate from Christmas and she was in and out of hospital.
‘Prior to her illness, Lillian was Dad’s full-time support and they had been married for 23 years. As well as heart failure, Dad has also been diagnosed with kidney failure and he too, has had cancer in the past. Dad was very independent and could do a lot of things for himself, but Lillian would help him to dress and get him ready for bed. Sometimes during the night, Dad would wake up disorientated and Lillian was always there to say “go back to sleep, John.”
‘My husband and I moved in to support them both when Lillian became too unwell. Her illness was a huge shock to everyone as she was fiercely independent. During the last week of her life, I called upon Blythe House and Helen’s Trust to see if they could step in to provide night-time sits. The sits supported my husband and I to go back home and have a change of scenery, get a good nights’ rest and to enable me to cope with the day-time care for them both.
‘Lillian did have, what I would call, a “perfect death.” I am a big believer in having a good death, in my role as a district nurse. She looked beautiful; she wasn’t agitated or in pain. It was the best it could have been. She died peacefully at home on the 6th February 2021.
‘After Lillian died, Blythe House and Helen’s Trust started to provide respite night-time care for Dad. Dad is “fast tracked” [some people who are close to the end of their lives may be referred for Continuing Healthcare on the ‘fast track’. This is a streamlined process for people whose health is rapidly deteriorating and who require end of life care] and we were able to access support from local care agencies. However, I waited until Blythe House and Helen’s Trust had the availability and capacity to provide care for Dad because I wanted their continuity and compassion.
‘Healthcare assistants from the hospice support my family with four night-sits per week; they’re a God send to me personally, as they enable me to continue working as a district nurse. My sister, who is an infection control nurse at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, and my daughter who’s training to be a Nursing Associate at Derby University, also help to look after dad; we are a family of nurses.
‘The night-time sits provided by the hospice help me to have much-needed time out, go home, have a change of scenery and a full night’s sleep. The hospice team is so flexible; they always try to accommodate my working pattern and space out the sits depending on my shifts, so that I am not exhausted. Furthermore, the continuity of care for Dad is just fantastic; all the healthcare assistants have developed a therapeutic relationship with Dad and he enjoys the rapport and their company. They’ve all got their own sense of humour and ways of working, and nothing is too much trouble for the team; they all go that extra mile and always go beyond what is expected.
‘In my professional role as a district nurse, I know that I can call upon the Hospice at Home service for support too. One day, I rang the team at around four o’clock in the afternoon, about one of my patients who was very near the end of their life. I said “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could pull something out of the bag for a night-sit tonight?” I left it with them, and they arranged it all. They do amazing things like that. That patient died that night – but knowing their family was supported, to take the pressure off and to make losing someone the best it can be – that’s all you can ever wish for.
‘At home, we also have support from a hospice Community Volunteer called Charlie. He visits once a week to chat to Dad or read to him. He’s really quite amazing. The afternoon visits give me chance to go out and do shopping, walk Dad’s dog, Patch, or catch up with jobs at home; knowing Dad’s in very safe hands. Life would be hectic without Blythe House and Helen’s Trust, and I wouldn’t be able to manage. I’d be exhausted both physically and emotionally.
‘As a district nurse, I continually encounter end of life patients in a professional environment, but now I am living it myself and it is heart breaking. Lillian has left a big void since she died, but we’re carrying on, and the hospice is enabling us to do that.
‘Both Dad and I donate monthly to the Hospice to enable others to receive excellence in healthcare and comfort in the own homes.’