“I want to marry you!’’ This is one statement that is quite familiar with almost everybody, whether young or old because it marks the beginning of something exciting, big and it usually is associated with the best moments in an individual’s life.
This however, is a different scenario altogether. David is a patient battling with cancer of the stomach and is under palliative care at Our Lady Hospice at Thigio, Limuru Constituency. He is resting on his bed, looking lively but seemingly at a loss as to who the many people in the room could be. Samuel, a Social Worker at the hospice introduces the visitors from KEHPCA with visitors from the US and soon the curiosity on David’s face disappears and he starts engaging the visitors in a sober and comfortable way. With the majority of the visitors coming from the US, language barrier was bound to come but nevertheless, Bernadette, a Clinical Officer at the facility interpreted what David was saying. It is at this point that he suddenly ‘proposes’ to Gwen, one of the visitors from the US much to the delight of everyone in the room, including David himself. In as much as the surprise ‘proposal’ was funny, we were all happy that in spite of his condition, he still can manage to interact and even crack jokes with people.
David is one of the six patients (3 men, 3 women) under palliative care at the hospice. They are all battling with different types of cancer. Geoffrey is a 101-year old man suffering from oesophagus cancer. Ironically, he appears to be the strong one of all. He is the only one seated on a chair and like David, he is talkative. John is fast asleep and does not wake up the entire time we are in the room. Bernadette says that he is weak mostly. He is battling with Leukemia. He however is in stable condition. Acceptance is a huge step towards living comfortably with cancer. As Bernadette explains, Florence, a 29-year old battling with breast cancer, has not fully accepted her condition and as result sometimes her condition gets worse. She seems relaxed though and is on her tablet. Next to her is Pauline, a woman in her mid forties, battling with Oesophagus cancer. She looks weak but is seated on her bed. She manages to whisper to say thank you to the visitors. Lastly, knitting a sweater and seemingly comfortable and all smiles is Mary. She has had a brain tumor removed but has left a hollow depth on her forehead. She however is happy, jovial and strong. “We try as much as possible to keep them happy because at this point, that is what keeps them going. We engage them in conversations from time to time and as you can see, they are doing well,’’ says Mona, a volunteer from Ireland who has been here for two weeks.
Our Lady Hospice is part of a large facility run by an NGO based in Ireland. It is headed by Sister. Eileen O. Callaghan. The hospice has been operating for 5 years now and has a total of 13 staff members; 3 nurses, 1 clinical officer, 6 ‘carers’, 1 cook and 1 person who ensures the place is conducive and clean. It has 9 beds for patients but in the event that there is an extra or new patient, they are taken to the single room before admission. ‘’ We are expecting a new cancer patient later in the day,’’ says Bernadette, the hospice CO. Most of the patients therein are cancer patients because they need more palliative care. ‘’We sometimes receive HIV/AIDS patients but they get better and we release them to go home unless their condition worsens,’’ adds the officer.
Generally, the facility has ensured that the patients receive the best palliative care possible, whether physical or psychological. They allow family members to help in case a patient needs special nutrition that the hospice may not provide. The patients are comfortable and appear happier and in better moods in spite of what they are going through. Cards with words of encouragement have been placed on each of the patients’ beds. They also have sessions with the priest and this helps them emotionally and spiritually.