Marymount, in Curraheen on the western edge of Cork City, has witnessed weddings and christenings and even accommodates visits from patients’ beloved pets.
“People can’t believe that we will bring their pets in for them,” says hospice chief executive Sarah McCloskey, who wants patients to get busy living. “A neighbour, a family member, a friend can bring the pet in for a visit and it makes a massive difference to someone’s life.
‘I’m going to go in there and die’ was the old view of a hospice, says Ms McCloskey, but the message she and the All Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care want to impart at the start of Palliative Care Week is that a hospice is not the only choice for people with a terminal illness and that, even for those who are admitted, it is not about lying down and dying. As well as 44 in-patient beds, Marymount has a community-based palliative care nursing team and a day service.
“The community team go anywhere, so when referrals come in, they’re assessed and reviewed by our nurse co-ordinator and essentially triaged,” says Ms McCloskey.
“Typically, we’d get out to patients within three days.”
The service is supported by Marymount’s three medical consultants and is part of a multidisciplinary team, which includes family support, physiotherapy, and chaplaincy. It has a satellite service based at Bantry General Hospital, which covers West Cork, as well as outreach in North Cork, North Lee, and South Lee.
“The community teams predominantly go to people in their homes and work alongside GPs and public health nurses, and it’s an advisory role, and they link back in here with our medical consultants,” says Ms McCloskey.
“In cases where end of life is imminent or someone is not coping with severe pain, we try and get them into Marymount within 24-48 hours.”
While palliative care manages pain, it is also about catering for psychological, social, and spiritual needs. Hence, the occasional wedding or christening at Marymount.
“We do the lot — chair covers, we decorate a room. It would be as good as what you see on the TV shows,” says Ms McCloskey.
“We work with the families and what they want, we bring in the Prosecco, we make a lovely family reception. And we give that space to families and we wait on them and the whole team pulls together — nursing, housekeeping, catering.
“A lot of people think palliative care is focused solely on death and dying. It’s not.
“It is about end-of-life, but that end-of-life can be short-term or long-term. The focus is on making that time productive and comfortable, and fulfilling the patient’s wishes as much as possible.”
Hospice stay ‘like dying and going to Heaven’
It might seem like an odd thing to say, considering he’s terminally ill with bowel cancer, but for Denis McCarthy waking up every morning in Marymount Hospice is like “dying and going to Heaven”.
The reality is that it’s given him a new lease of life.
From Evergreen St on Cork City, Denis, 76, was living alone in Share housing in Sheares St and, prior to his diagnosis on October 23, was struggling daily with excruciating pain.
“I was in terrible pain for nearly 12 months before I went to my doctor,” he says. “In July of this year, I had two operations in one night, one to have a bag fitted, the other for a hernia and afterwards, the doctor recommended that I go Marymount every Monday for six weeks.
“I’d have a grand day every time I came here. Then one Monday when I came in I was very bad. I couldn’t stick the pain and I was falling out of the chair. The doctor noticed it and they kept me in and put me on fantastic medication.”
Denis has been an inpatient in Marymount for almost five weeks and the care he receives has transformed his life, he says.
The design of the hospice means he can get about easily in his wheelchair — his little house in Sheares St, in which all his living was done in one room, could not have accommodated the chair. He can get out into the gardens, which he loves. He can move easily between his ensuite bedroom and the day room. He can socialise with other patients — “people in the same predicament as yourself”, he says.
“There’s music and singing and you get your dinner and tea and it’s an absolutely beautiful place,” says Denis.
“And you get a menu imagine, and you can pick out whatever you want. It’s absolutely fabulous, the lotto wouldn’t come near.”
Assistant director of nursing Ann McAtamney says the transformation in Denis since he was admitted to Marymount is incredible.
“He was in such pain. I can’t believe he’s so good now,” she says.
Denis nods. “Being in Marymount has made the diagnosis easier,” he says. “I was wondering what I would do if I was sent home. I was very worried, I had no peace of mind.
“My brother has nine children and 23 grandchildren so he wouldn’t have been able to look after me, so I’m delighted to be staying in. I pinch myself sometimes when I wake up to see if they are all real — because it’s such a good experience. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve died and gone to Heaven.”