A more personal level of care

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Barbara Watts was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008 and spent her last few weeks being cared for at the Hospice.  Here, her husband of 46 years, David Watts, tells their story.

Barbara was born in Croxley Green in 1945 where she was living with her parents when I first met her in mid-1964. I had come over from Cape Town, where I was studying Architecture, to do the year of practical experience which was a requirement of my course.

We met whilst we both worked for the then Ministry of Public Building and Works. I returned to Cape Town in early 1965 and Barbara followed me later that year. We returned to this country in 1967 to marry and immediately went back to Cape Town for me to finish my studies and where we stayed until late 1972 when we returned to the UK.

In mid-2008 not long after we had returned from a long and enjoyable family holiday, Barbara was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She received radiotherapy and chemotherapy and had part of her bowel removed. She bore this with her normal stoicism but her condition slowly but steadily deteriorated.

She managed two major trips. The first was to New Zealand, in 2010, where our youngest son was then living. On our way to New Zealand I managed to lose my driver’s licence so Barbara did all the driving on a six week trip. In 2012, although she was very ill by this stage, Barbara insisted on visiting Australia where our youngest son had then settled. The trip took a lot out of her but she enjoyed it and quite took to being pushed around the streets of Melbourne by yours truly.

Her condition continued to worsen and there were problems with getting her pain-killing regime clarified. Eventually in May 2013 it was decided by her medical team that she should be admitted to the Hospice in order to sort out her pain-killers.

It had been our intention that Barbara return home after a brief stay but after discussion with the medical team we came to the conclusion that it was best for her that she stayed in Florence Nightingale Hospice.

This proved to be a good decision. She was happy and as comfortable as could be expected and the staff at the hospice could not have been more helpful or caring. For the last two weeks of her stay a bed was made up for me in her room and I spent my nights there. My younger son and his partner had come over from Australia so Barbara had someone with her virtually all day and every day. One Saturday there were twelve people either in her room or in the courtyard. Gardening was Barbara’s great love and being in a ground floor room with doors to the courtyard made her stay that much happier.

Like most people I assume we had a vague idea of hospice care but until it became necessary we had no idea of what it involved. Indeed I suppose if the idea of Barbara leaving home to stay in a hospice had been suggested earlier we would have resisted but as I have said, once we knew what was possible, we would not have had it differently.

Barbara died on 18th June 2013 aged 68. We had been married for 46 years.

Dasvid Watts in FNHC Midnight Walk tshirt

All through her illness Barbara received good and considerate care from the health professionals she dealt with. I have always been a strong supporter of the NHS which I believe to be an institution in which this country can take great pride.

The hospice system seems to be a necessary and humane part of the system as it can provide a more personal and intimate level of care at the time when both the ill, and their families, need an especially high level of support and kindness.