The widow of a “true gentleman” who stayed at her husband’s bedside for four nights as he succumbed to leukaemia has thanked specialist palliative care nurses who made his final days so comfortable – as well as looking after her too.
Carole Stiff, 78, said doctors, nurses and the “sweet” ward clerk on Ward 15 were “more like family than complete strangers,” supporting and comforting her at the same time as looking after her beloved Harry.
Harry passed away on April 28 after a brave, six-year battle with leukaemia. He was 85.
Five months on, Carole is the inspiration behind a new scheme launched by the specialist palliative care team, to ensure relatives who wish to stay by their loved-one’s bedside in their final days can be as comfortable as possible.
During the four days Carole sat by Harry’s bedside, she barely took time out for her own needs, but would use Harry’s toiletries bag if she wanted to freshen up.
It was then that one of the specialist palliative nurses saw there was a need for relatives to be provided with some basic toiletries to make their time in hospital as comfortable as possible.
Carole said: “I was using Harry’s toiletries bag for a lot of the time. We used to have his bag packed all the time with everything he would need if he needed to go into hospital, so I would just use his stuff.
“But staff brought me magazines and other things they thought might be useful. “
Now, the Dragonfly Scheme, developed by the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s Specialist Palliative Care Team provides a bag including essential items like bottled water, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries to those staying in hospital with their loved ones.
They also include vouchers for tea and a scone, while Carillion, the trust’s PFI partner providing catering as well as other services, has also agreed to provide discounted meals for any relatives carrying the bag.
The bags, which include a Dragonfly logo already recognised by patients, as it is used by the bereavement service within the trust, were funded by generous donations from previous patients’ relatives.
They were created by Middlesbrough-based Via Creative, who also kindly produced a letter for relatives to be distributed with the bags free of charge.
Leanne Petch, Macmillan support sister within the specialist palliative care team, said: “This bag is offered to relatives as a gesture to show we are here to support everyone involved and not just the patient.
“We’ve had great support from ViaCreative, the trust’s volunteers and Carillion, whom we would like to thank.”
The Dragonfly Scheme also supports relatives to work together with staff on caring for their loved ones, by providing personal information in a ‘My Care’ card at their bedside.
This also incorporates the Dragonfly logo and can include things like the type of music their loved ones enjoy and self-care preferences.
Speaking of how this would be “so appreciated” and “gratefully received” by relatives, Carole said: “I couldn’t have had more support and comfort than I got from the staff there.
“I felt like I’d known the staff all my life, as everyone was so kind to me and made me feel so at ease, so comfortable.”
“They understood I didn’t want to leave Harry and for something to happen. It’s a frightening thing knowing your loved one is in hospital if you’re not there with them.”
Carole is now slowly coming to terms with life without Harry, with the support of her nephew and great niece, who were also dearly loved by Harry.
Carole said: “Harry and I enjoyed 60 years together and he’s always been there for me.
“It is difficult now doing things on my own when Harry always looked after me, but I do still feel he’s there for me all the time, helping me all the way.”
New proactive service supporting more dying patients and their families
Since a new proactive palliative care service was launched less than a year ago, the Specialist Palliative Care Team has seen at least 400 more patients than they did in the previous year.
This is because the team now proactively identify patients at the end of their lives using trust systems and visit or contact wards accordingly, rather than just waiting for referrals from wards.
However, ward staff can still contact the team about any patients and their relatives who may benefit from their support.