“My life seems worth living now”

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Mary Gardener raises money for Florence Nightingale Hospice Charity as a member of Nightingale Country Crafts (NCC). Mary knits beautiful, quirky animals, full of character and charm, which the NCC sells to raise money for the Hospice. Mary is also a Day Hospice patient who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Here she describes her 20-year journey from breathlessness to knitting for the NCC so that she can give something back to the Hospice for making her see that life was still worth living.

“The COPD hit me quite hard to start with, that was about 20 years ago, and I was so convinced that if I carried on smoking I would never see a grand-daughter that my daughter was expecting. So I stopped smoking from that day, with patches, and I’ve never looked back. I found it hard at times because I smoked such a lot, which was forty a day. So really I’ve done it to myself but in those days you didn’t think about cancer and smoking and things like that.

“Doing anything was making me out of breath, not terribly, but out of breath, so I did it for myself really, I stopped the smoking and I was so surprised that I did, and my family was so surprised that I managed to do it.

“But now each infection I get, my COPD gradually gets a little bit worse. It’s damage to the lungs and at this time I have got serious damage to the lungs. And it will never get better, it just gradually gets worse. You just learn to live with it, because what else can you do? It is hard, but, I’m getting there. I’m on oxygen 24/7. I find it worse in the night than I do in the daytime, but, apart from that, we live a full life, as much as I can. It’s a happy life.

“You learn more about it as you go on, really, because at the time the lung damage wasn’t really that severe. Over the years, it gradually gets worse, with each infection you have a little bit more damage and scarring. So most of the time, I’m out of breath when I do anything at all. Even just walk to the bathroom, I’m out of breath. But as I say you learn to cope with it.
Two or three years ago, I had a really bad patch, a really bad patch. I wasn’t interested in doing anything at all. Nothing whatsoever. And that was hard, that really was hard. I didn’t do any of my hobbies, I didn’t do anything. And of course the depression started as well then. That was a hard time.

“And that was the time that my respiratory nurses tried to convince me that Day Hospice would be good. But I kept saying no because it is the Hospice, and the word Hospice, to me, is cancer. So I kept putting it off and putting it off, and then they said, “Well, why don’t you just go for the first meeting?” So I came here, and coming through those doors, oh it was dreadful. But I did it. And I had the meeting, and they offered me one day a week, Thursdays, to come and join in and see how it went.

“So I did get here that first week, and I am SO glad that I did. It has changed me completely. My life seems worth living now. And I really enjoy coming here. The nurses are so fantastic, and the doctors, I’ve seen doctors here, and yes, everybody’s friendly, and it’s given me a purpose. It changed me a lot and everybody can see it, and I’m so glad I did it.

“It’s changed me in lots of ways, coming here. They listen to you. You can talk, and they listen. And they also give you advice. And it’s different to going to your GP because GPs are so busy. You have time to talk here, and it’s made a huge difference, a huge difference.

“They explain a lot, about medication and tablets and all sorts when you come to the Breathe Well [Group]. They show you pictures of the lungs and what happens, and what to do when you get breathless, how to breathe. Because that is most important, that you breathe properly. But when you’re really out of breath, it takes a lot to get it under control, but if you keep trying, you will get it under control and that is the secret of being able to get over the breathlessness quite quickly and to help with everything else.

“I knit for the NCC, I knit animals. I’ve got quite a lot of different ones that I knit for the Hospice. They’re all done in pieces and it’s very fiddly but I love to do them, and because I love to do them, I buy the wool, I buy the stuffing, and I donate the whole lot to the NCC. And when I come to the Day Hospice, they are quite excited to see different ones that I have made, and I sell quite a few at the Day Hospice for grandchildren and all sorts, and every bit of money goes to the Hospice because they have done so much for me, and I wanted to give them something back.”