Vans, Pyjamas and Chocolate Cake

How is it possible to shed a tear and be happy at the same time? Well, if you hear of so many patient success stories, there is no reason not to feel this way.

A fifteen year old boy was being cared for by Hospice and he loved coming to day care. His clothes had to be specially chosen and ironed by his grandmother. To do the outing justice, he felt an urgent need for a pair of Vans to put on his feet. He came from a poor family so this was a very big dream. Our patient pressurised his grandma to buy a box of muffin mix and make muffins. As he was feeling so awful from the chemo, he coerced his young cousin to get out there and sell those muffins. He pocketed the income. The whole exercise was repeated and the goal of course, was that pair of Vans to wear to Hospice day care. It didn’t happen. Our boy died after the second batch of muffins and over a year later, his story still moves us to tears, but we smile.

Joining us in my office, another Hospice sister overheard the story and said that had happened to her. She was caring for an impoverished patient who, it seemed, was living simply on spirit as his test results showed that his cancer had overcome his body. This old man was holding on for pension day as he had two strong desires. One, for a new pair of pyjamas and two, a chocolate cake. Our sister promised him that she would assist and help him as he had no way of getting to shops. She had no intention of waiting for pension day as there was no time, yet still, the few days it took to arrange the trip out to the farm where he lived, were too many. Our old man died without his pyjamas and chocolate cake.

Why do I smile and cry over these stories? For me it is my proximity to people who do incredible work day in and day out. The Hospice care professionals are super well trained. They are well supported and work close to death. But they never really come to terms with not assisting with total pain, as they see it. They do not get callous.

That’s why I tear up and smile. It is for my Hospice colleagues who are so dear, so professional, yet Vans, pyjamas and chocolate cake are as important to them as freedom from physical pain using modern medication. They have so many success stories and yet it is the poignancy of when they could not make these small dreams come true, that motivate them to continue. It is the dearness that it is not about the shoes, pyjamas or cake, but that these patients could share their desires with their Hospice nurse. They could still speak about their dreams. That counts for a lot. It is the quality of the nurse’s listening, which made all the difference. The Hospice team is often battered by matters over which there can be no control.

That takes a big heart.