Being at Springhill was a very humbling experience; just to think that there are such impressive people in the world and that they will look after you.
In the Summer of 2020 I’d found my levels of fitness dropped significantly. Professionally I’ve been a Soldier, Police Officer and I’ve played rugby and always kept myself in pretty reasonable condition. My wife, Jen, and I used to walk a lot and I’ve always been fit and healthy. I found that I wasn’t able to keep up with her on our walks, to the point where on one walk in the West Pennines I had to stop and she had to go and fetch the car and pick me up. I don’t know why but I put it down to getting older and not being as fit, which seems silly now! On another occasion I’d walked up a flight of stairs at work and it took me around 10 minutes to recover from it. Jen was worried and we ended up at the Walk In Centre at Rochdale Infirmary where they discovered a large lump which they thought was around my liver. After further hospital visits, scans and an unrelated stay in hospital with Pneumonia they eventually found the problem was with my kidney. I was diagnosed with clear cell renal cell carcinoma, effectively cancer in my right kidney. I also had clotting in the veins leading to and from my kidney and in the large vein that runs up the centre of your body. Until the beginning of 2021 I found that I could still manage a 5-6 mile flat walk with the dog, at my own pace, but fast forward a couple of months and now I couldn’t dream of walking any distance. I was referred to the Specialist Community Nursing Team at Springhill in Spring of 2021 following a visit to A&E at North Manchester. One of Springhill’s Specialist Community Nurses came out and spent a lot of time with me, talking to me about my condition. She wanted to know which other teams were involved in my care, what they were doing for me and, most importantly, they wanted to know what I felt about what was happening. Rather than being asked diagnostic questions they asked questions like ‘if we do this what do you think?’ or ‘shall we try this?’… they involved me. They put together a home care package which worked for a while, but two or so weeks afterwards I had a horrible night. From the moment I went to bed I was in pain. I don’t know what triggered it but I couldn’t get rid of it. I needed help. I couldn’t think through it but, in the moments I could, I was really scared. I felt out of control and couldn’t do anything about it. Jen called an ambulance and they managed to stop the immediate pain, but were at a loss as to where to go from there. Thankfully they were excellent and they phoned the nurses at Springhill. One of them came out immediately and I was admitted to Springhill’s In-Patient Unit. It was odd for me. I knew I definitely didn’t want to go into Hospital, but on the other hand I was absolutely frightened to death. I’m 56, not particularly old, but I’m of that generation that believes you go to a Hospice to die, so that was the thought going through my head. I was worried. From there on, the team at Springhill just blew my mind. Every single interaction or element of being in the Hospice was just surprising; it was an education, an unbelievable education. I found it amazing in every way.
The attitude of the staff meant I was involved in the choices around my care. Jen and my sister were understandably worried and I was more than happy for the Doctors and Nurses to speak to them directly. They had a great care for my family as well as me, particularly in these times where they couldn’t visit because of Covid. The Doctors and Nurses guided me through everything. They made sure I knew what information to give to Jen and my sister. They almost anticipated the questions Jen would ask and, whilst they didn’t tell me how to answer them, we talked about why it was important to answer those questions. The thing that really stood out for me was the professional competence of the staff; these were people who were at the top of their game. There was an amazing professional ethos. It’s easy for me to say these things about the nurses and doctors, but it extends to the attitude of the cleaning staff and the people who served you your dinner and the maintenance stewards. They’d come in in the morning to have a chat and they’d remember the conversation you’d had the day before. They would ask questions about how you were getting on. It was an ethos that ran throughout the whole team. They were all in it together, for you; there was real compassion right across the board. I felt confident, and I soon became comfortable there. You knew every single one of them was there for you. I was in the Hospice for pain control for just over a week. Now I’m back home I’m still in touch with the SPCN team; one of them is coming in later in the month to see how I am coping around the house with stairs and obstacles. One thing I’ve come to realise through my journey with Springhill is that, whilst I’m hugely independent, I’ve learnt that if I accept a little bit of help then my ability to cope lasts a little bit longer. I always try and have the attitude that I have a good day and a better day and something in between, but never have a bad day and that helps me to get through things. Being at Springhill was a very humbling experience; just to think that there are such impressive people in the world and that they will look after you. I made up my mind very early on, following my experience at Springhill, that my illness is terminal and I’m quite comfortable with that as a proposition, I never wanted to die at home. My family is traditional. I remember going to my Grandma’s funeral and her coffin was in the living room. That’s something I’ve never forgotten and wasn’t something I wanted to happen with me. It seems an odd thing to say, but the place I want to die is at Springhill Hospice.