He didn’t want his wife to be admitted to hospice. She had been ready but he was scared. We had offered admission a few days prior but he had said no. They agreed to come and have a look at our inpatient unit.
On arrival, they realised there was nothing to be scared of and agreed to stay for a symptom control admission. The pain had been worsening and the wife had been reluctant to take any medication as she was worried it might worsen her liver impairment. They liked the safe room we had to offer, and were happy to stay.
Over the next month, our patient only left her room to have investigations or procedures done. We encouraged her to spend at home and we would hold her bed but to no avail. She didn’t think they would cope at home. The thought of leaving our place freaked them out.
Everyone was saddened by her death, none more so than her husband. After we farewelled her, he thanked us and said that if he was dying he would want to die at our place as we had looked after his wife so well.
They had lived in New Zealand for many years and could speak English as their third language. Their English was pretty good but they did not feel confident when discussing medical issues with healthcare staff. Their children had grown up here but were busy with work. One child worked in NZ, the other child was overseas. Thanks to time zone differences, their overseas child would sometimes be available to help with translation during our patient’s clinic appointments. The patient and their spouse didn’t want to risk any misunderstandings when it came to discussing medications and treatment plans.
We had offered them a virtual appointment but they wanted to come in person. Face to face it was easier to communicate even with masks on. I greeted them in our shared second language, Mandarin Chinese. This made them feel at ease right away. They felt they would be able to communicate better with me. They had come for a pain review and I was able to quickly assess our patient. Our patient would be seeing their Oncologist the next day. I provided them with written instructions and also wrote a note to the Oncologist asking them for advice about another problem they had mentioned to me.
The communication was by no means perfect as my Mandarin is not 100% fluent, especially when talking about medical issues. I had to use occasional English words interspersed between paragraphs of Mandarin but we were able to understand each other well in terms of language and also cultural expectations. They were pleased to meet our pharmacist who could also speak Mandarin.
It felt good that our diversity and inclusion recruitment programme was making a difference. Our effort to reflect our demographic continues to be beneficial and is another patient-centric point of difference in the services we provide. We are doing better than before and will continue to keep trying to make our ability to connect better.
His grandmother had never learnt English, and all conversations at home were in the indigenous language. At home, he also learnt another language, the language of song. He was one of the guitar players and could sing traditional songs in their language. It was important to pass on his culture and he became a teacher, passing on his knowledge to the next generations. His ethos was full integration, two cultures living together in harmony. That’s how he raised his children, and to provide for them, he moved overseas in pursuit of a better income.
He missed his home and he craved being able to talk in his grandmother tongue. He would visit his cousins as often as he could. Grandmother’s rules applied and only their native language would be spoken in their home. He had to translate for his wife to understand the jokes and conversations. His family ended up in both countries, and during any reunion, the guitars would come out and the favourite songs would be sung together.
The songs kept him going during the first cancer. The treatments were rough, but he completed them, and they worked. Things were different with the second bout of cancer. Nothing went well. The cruellest thing of all was the cancer’s effect on his swallowing and voice. Two of the things he loved the most were taken away from him. He couldn’t eat his favourite foods, and he couldn’t sing his favourite songs. More and more bad news from the doctors. They told him time was short, that there were no treatments left. He told them he wanted to go home, that he wanted to be with his family for the end of his life. The team wasn’t sure if he was well enough to make the trip but prepared for it anyway.
He couldn’t sleep the night before the flight home, he was too excited. He didn’t sleep on the plane. There were various delays which meant he didn’t arrive at the hospice until late evening. He was pleasantly surprised by the staff greeting him in his language. The family visited and they celebrated his safe return. He was exhausted but the thrill of being together with his family in their home country kept him awake into the early hours of the next morning.
He met the rest of the medical team the next day, and they used more words from his language. They invited him to their singing practice scheduled for the following morning at 9.15 am. They all looked surprised when he turned up sitting in his wheelchair. The assembled staff was like a United Nations assembly. Though they were all of different ethnic origins to him, they were singing songs in his language. His family joined in the singing, and then he gave his critique. “A+ for effort, just need more practice with some of the songs. It’d be better with a guitar, I’ll get my daughter to play next time.”
They made him comfortable and kept things as simple as possible. He went home to his family after joining the following week’s singing practice, this time accompanied by guitar playing. The hospice held his bed for longer than usual, but his family looked after him well and he didn’t need to go back. Generations of family and old friends visited him with their music and laughter.
The pain worsened, and he was worried that he was about to die. He wanted to go back to the hospice, he trusted that they would make him more comfortable. His family attended the weekly singing practice and were encouraged to play their guitar and sing even more. Beautiful harmonies were heard from his room in the afternoon. His family surrounded him with love and the last thing he ever heard was the harmony of them singing to him, “The Lord’s Prayer.”
The poor old lady had been through a lot in recent years. Cancer had treated her harshly, and had spread through major organ systems, her liver, lung, and most of the bones in her body. A cruel disease that robbed her of her independence, and dignity. The years that she had the cancer had been relentless, multiple lines of treatment including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy. Despite all of them the cancer continued to progress, to cause havoc, and to ravage her body, and eventually her mind.
The past month had been the worst time of all. Her final decline started with a fall, it was not clear why she fell but she ended up fracturing her wrist. A painful injury that caused her to cry in agony. Her lower arm was placed in a cast for comfort and to give it the best chance to heal. Three days later she fell again, with her other hand outstretched, causing another wrist fracture. Two forearms were now encased by fibre-glass casts. This rendered her unable to wipe her bottom or wash herself. Increasingly dependent she had trouble feeding herself, the casts were of the light weight sort, but when your illness has stolen away precious muscle, the additional weight made brushing her teeth impossible.