Love, peace & dignity

On the eve of the Irish Hospice Coffee Morning, Colette Sheridan visits the new Marymount in Cork, now one year old

Love, peace & dignity

ONLY for a discreet stand displaying books on bereavement and how to talk to children about cancer, the foyer of St Patrick’s Hospital/Marymount Hospice looks more like a hotel than a medical centre. It’s bright and airy and furnished with orange and scarlet sofas. Down the stairs to the basement, trees have been potted in plant boxes near a large seating area and a welcoming cafe looks out onto a patio with garden furniture.

It is the first anniversary of the opening of the new state-of-the-art building in Curraheen on Cork city’s western outskirts. Before the hospital and hospice moved to this 11-acre site from its previous location at Wellington Road, there was very little privacy for patients and their families. Set up by the Sisters of Charity 142 years ago, St Patrick’s Hospital/Marymount was a typical 1870s building, says CEO of the centre, Kevin O’Dwyer.

“It’s a beautiful building but out of the 24 beds in the old Marymount Hospice, only four of them were in single rooms. Now, the hospice is all single en-suite rooms and that’s a massive difference. In the old hospice, there were no support rooms. When you were walking the corridor, you were likely to see a consultant carrying out an interview with a family there. It was chaotic. We didn’t know how deprived we were until we came here.”

The rooms, all of which have balconies or patios, come with a bedside entertainment system that includes a television, radio and internet access.

While there is capacity for 44 beds in the hospice, economic circumstances dictate that just 24 are available. In the other wing of the complex, there are 63 beds for the elderly. Out of these, 18 are respite beds and six are intermediate palliative care beds.

“The architects (Scott Tallon Walker in association with British specialists in hospice design) did a fantastic job in getting light into the building,” says O’Dwyer. “We wanted to dispel the sense of foreboding people have when they come to a hospice. People associate it with darkness and bad news. We wanted a hotel feel to the place so that when people come in, it has a welcoming and relaxing feeling.”

Unlike the Wellington Road site, there is ample parking at the Curraheen centre. There are several water features in the grounds. An orchard has been planted. Close to the orchard are statues of Our Lady and Bernadette which were relocated from the grotto at Wellington Road. There’s also a plan to have a memorial garden.

“People will be able to look at it and remember their own gardens at home. The centrepiece will be a tree that’s going to be an art piece with individual leaves dedicated to individual people.”

There is also a rooftop sensory garden where people can enjoy solitude surrounded by the velvety leaves of a variety of plants. Herbs are also grown here.

“The aim of the hospice is to be holistic. I don’t want to talk about death and dying all the time,” says O’Dwyer. “We have a discharge rate of about 35%. People come in; their symptoms are brought under control and they go home, supported by Home Care. It might be six months before they come back again.”

The optimum goal is to facilitate people to have a ‘good’ death, he says. “The patients’ spiritual needs are looked after as well as their physical needs. We have a team of social workers so that people’s affairs are tidy. They might also be reconciled with family members they haven’t spoken to for years.”

Claire Morris, a staff nurse at Marymount hospice, has worked in different branches of nursing but has really found her calling in palliative care. She trained in this speciality in London.

“There is a philosophy of care connected to palliative care. It’s about bringing the true meaning of holistic care to the patient. You’re concerned with all the dimensions of a human being, from physical care to spiritual and emotional care. I like this work because it’s challenging and it feels meaningful. I know from personal experience that if you witness a good death, it can really console the people left behind. For some families, they are having the worst time of their lives, watching someone dying. But it doesn’t mean they have to go away with bad memories.”

Betty Walsh, who is in her 70s, has been in Marymount Hospice for three months. She has fibrosis of the lungs. Her spacious room is adorned with a large notice board with messages of goodwill from her son in Italy, which cheer her up as do the visits from her grandchildren who enjoy playing in the gardens of the complex.

Walsh is very happy with the level of care she is receiving. “This is a fantastic place. Everything is looked after. It’s a holistic approach to all ailments. The staff are great. I couldn’t ask for better care than this.”

Dr Marie Murphy is one of two consultants working in Marymount Hospice. “It has been fantastic to move to this new facility and to be able to look after people in single rooms. What we’re trying to do here is squeeze the very last drop from life. We try and get people as physically well as possible. We work within a multi-disciplinary team. There is a full-time chaplaincy here. People need spiritual support as well. Some have questions such as ‘why me? I never harmed anyone. I worked hard all my life and I’ve just retired.’ Sometimes, it’s about God in the middle of that.”

As well as the Catholic chaplaincy, there’s a support team from the Church of Ireland and other faiths as required.

Dr Murphy says working in palliative care is incredibly uplifting. “The people we meet are just so amazing. It’s a real privilege to journey with people and to try and get the very best out of their situation.”

Volunteers also play a big role at the hospice. “They come in the evenings and man the phones. They serve drink from the drinks trolley. We have one alcohol round once a week. Also, the Ballincollig Flower Club donates flowers every week to keep the place looking beautiful.”

Twenty years of brewing up a coffee storm

This is the 20th year of Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning in aid of Hospice. It takes place all over the country tomorrow.

All funds raised stay local to support hospices. Bewleys provide the coffee free of charge.

Anyone can host a coffee morning. Over one million cups of Bewley’s coffee will be served tomorrow with people making donations of €2 and over.

St Patrick’s Hospital/Marymount cost €56m to build. Over half of that amount has been acquired through fund-raising.

Over the next 12 years, €10m will have to be raised to pay back bank loans.

The coffee morning has generated €3.2m for Marymount over the years.

All the money raised in Cork goes to Marymount, which is the regional centre for palliative care in Cork and Kerry.

It’s expected that this year’s coffee morning will raise €200,000 for Marymount.

The Lord Mayor, Cllr John Buttimer, will host a coffee morning at City Hall tomorrow from 10am-12pm.

* www.irelandsbiggestcoffeemorning.ie

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