A terminally ill Wigan man has spoken out about his experience of palliative care to support a national campaign.
Stephen Braddock, from Ince, has spent the past few months learning to cope with the debilitating symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and heart disease with the help of Wigan and Leigh Hospice.
The 70-year-old, who contracted life-threatening pneumonia earlier this year, has shared his story to mark Hospice Care Week which runs until Friday.
Stephen, who is married to Glynis, had been coping with his conditions for a few years but was on holiday in January 2019 when he started to feel ill and put it down to a bad cold or the flu.
The day after he got home from holiday he went to watch his grandson play rugby.
But when he returned home after the match, he suddenly felt very ill and was struggling to breathe. During a visit to the out of hours GP he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
He initially spent eight days in hospital before being discharged but ended up being readmitted less than a week later.
Once again, Stephen went home after a few days but then was back in with water retention.
He was allowed home a few days later before going back into hospital again with pneumonia.
“All this was going on and I was thinking I can’t cope with this and going back into hospital over and over,” he said.
“I thought the doctors weren’t telling me something. I panicked and the more I did, the worse my breathing was. It just went on and on.
“When I was in hospital one of the nurses started talking about palliative care and I asked her – ‘have I got cancer and how long have I got?’
“I thought palliative care was end of life care. My son explained it best to me. He said I’m not going to get better but palliative care aims to make life better.”
Following this Stephen met Emma Ashcroft, a hospice nurse specialist for Wigan and Leigh Hospice, who helped him get back on his feet.
“I don’t panic now because I know how to get over that anxiety and I was going to the hospital because of that,” he added.
“In the last few months I haven’t been to the hospital or seen my GP once.
“But a few months ago my kids and my grandkids were coming to see me, including my granddaughter who came up all the way from London, because they thought I was near the end.”
For a long time Stephen felt so anxious about being on his own that he couldn’t leave the house without his wife or go to sleep without her in the room.
“Not long ago my wife couldn’t leave the room while I was asleep because if I woke up and she wasn’t there I’d panic,” he added.
“I couldn’t go out of the house without my wife but now I can go out and come to appointments at the hospice on my own.
“Now my confidence is unbelievable. Before I couldn’t get into bed under the covers because it felt sort of claustrophobic. I thought if I closed my eyes I wouldn’t wake up.
“I go to bed, get in myself and Glynis doesn’t have to stay with me because I’m not afraid anymore and I can sleep in my own bed– I hadn’t done that for 18 months.
“I was very tentative about coming in to the hospice at first but it’s the best thing since sliced bread. It’s something I will never regret doing.
“If you’d had seen me at the end of March you wouldn’t believe I’m still be here now. I was so poorly, down in the dumps and Emma helped just by talking to me and referring me to other services.
“Now I’ve got aids including my scooter and a lifting chair and I’ve been going for complementary therapy at the hospice too.
“They’ve given me a sniff stick so when I’m feeling tense I smell it and within a few minutes I feel relaxed and I’m fine. They’ve taught me breathing exercises which are really helping too.
“Anything Emma has advised would help me I’ve done it. I thought there was nothing left for me but I thought I can only give it a try.
“From that day to this a miracle has happened. I’m still living and I didn’t think I would be and something has changed in my mind – now I feel there’s something to live for.”
There are more than 200 hospices across the UK providing inpatient and home support for people and their families.
It takes 40,000 staff, and more than 125,000 volunteers to provide the care they need.
And while end of life care is one of the things that everyone will need at some point, two-thirds of the £1.4bn per year needed to run an essential public service comes from the public.
Alan Baron, chief executive of Wigan and Leigh Hospice. said: “Wigan and Leigh Hospice is a specialist healthcare organisation delivering complex care for local people with incurable illnesses and those people closest to them.
“Hospice care is free, but it’s not cheap. It is such an important service and yet we still receive less than a third of our funding from the NHS and rely on our wonderful community to ensure hospice services are available now and in the future.”
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