As Medical Director Dr Carole Dacombe embarks upon retirement from the only adult hospice in the Bristol area. Having served more than 870,000 patients, she reflects on how attitudes have changed since she decided to specialise in caring for people with terminal illnesses.
When people come to St Peter’s Hospice for the first time, they invariably express some surprise at what a light, bright, friendly and happy place it is.
It is clearly not what many people expect of a location where adults with life-limiting illnesses are cared for and supported.
Yet life is not all doom and gloom and, in much the same way, neither is terminal illness.
The people who are referred to St Peter’s Hospice are still very much the same individuals that they were before being diagnosed with a terminal condition.
During my 25 years at the hospice, and before that during my work as a GP, a constant factor was witnessing how each individual deals with their situation in their own way.
I have learned from every single patient I have met. I have learned from them as human beings, and from their family relationships and how they work together to deal with the difficult situation they are in. You continue to be amazed by people’s courage and resilience, and their amazing ability to deal with their situation, even when they don’t think that they can deal with it.
What I have learned is that people basically stay the same people that they were before they were diagnosed with a terminal condition. People with a wonderful sense of humour deal with their situation with humour; people who are very practical and task-orientated make lists and organise things for their families.
There is no formula for how someone should deal with knowing that they are approaching the end of their life, and it is very important that people are allowed to be individuals.