June Crokett’s mother Vera will turn 90 this year. And she remains a proud and independent woman.
As Vera got older, June started to notice some tell-tale signs of forgetfulness and confusion. When Vera was diagnosed with dementia it quickly became clear that she would need full-time professional care. So June and her family arranged for Vera to move into a private nursing home nearby.
At first the home seemed to be ideal. But then she noticed that there few activities for the residents. Then June started getting the phone calls.
“They rang me to say that Mum had ‘kicked off’ – that was the phrase they used. But rather than trying to calm her, or talk to her, they just called an ambulance and sent her to hospital.”
Agitation is a common feature of dementia so each time Vera was sent to hospital they could find no real reason to keep her. And so she was sent back to the nursing home.
This pattern continued for months. Every time her mother became slightly agitated June would be called and Vera would be sent back to hospital.
“My heart was in my mouth every time the phone rang.”
One time the nursing home even called the police to deal with Vera’s agitation.
“It was so hard for me to put my mother in a home and then to have her treated in that way?”
June was so frustrated with the care her mother was receiving because she knew that better care was possible. She had found it before with her husband John.
From the moment John first met June at a bustling party until the moment she said her last goodbye to him, they lived a long and happy life together, filled with family, laughter and love. This quiet, private and dashing man in uniform was the centre of June’s world. A world that fell apart when John was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“John worked with the airlines and he would be away for months. One time he rang me – he wasn’t feeling well. When he arrived home, he had lost so much weight and was the most awful colour.”
John started chemotherapy but sadly his condition quickly deteriorated. Having spent months in busy, cramped hospital wards and cancer units, June knew her husband needed more specialised care.
“We were told John had about a month to live. Initially they wanted to put him into a home but I insisted he go to a hospice.”
June had found the level of care and respect she had been searching for.
“It was such a pleasure to see John there. They were more than good to him. They gave him back his dignity.”
The palliative care that lies at the heart of the hospice ethos is designed to cater for the needs of both patients and their families.
“You see the focus is on the person, not the disease. “
As a result, John’s final days with his family were particularly special.
“The staff gave us our privacy. And I spent the last couple of days with him continually. I don’t know if he was aware I was there or not. And then one night, I was sitting holding his hand and he just took three breaths – and he was away.”
June now volunteers in that same hospice.
“It’s my way of giving back for all they did for John.”
June’s mother is now in a different nursing home. One that is properly staffed and places as much emphasis on her mum’s dignity as they do on her medical needs. The staff no longer ring June if her mother “kicks off”. They are trained to cope with, and understand, the agitation of a proud and independent 89 year-old woman.
Today June’s life is busier than ever between visiting her mother, doting on her grandchildren and the many hours she spends volunteering in the hospice. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The one thing you’re not allowed say is “I know how you feel”. Even somebody like me, who had my husband go through the hospice. Because you don’t know how people feel. The end of someone’s life is such a private, intimate and personal experience. That’s why the level of care needs to be just as intimate and personal.”