Resilience in the face of Covid 19.

Choose Hospice

A story of resilience

Cheryl (all names have been changed), is an 85 year old Hospice patient diagnosed with cancer of the colon and gall bladder as well as arthritis. Cheryl was admitted onto the Hospice programme in October 2019. At the time of her admission she was facing eviction from a small holding as the previous owner had sold the property. Cheryl was then living with her 64 year old son (Malcolm) and he was her primary carer. Mother and son share a close bond and Malcolm has her best interests at heart. Malcolm is the eldest son and is the only family member who lives close to mother as his two younger siblings live abroad. He makes a concerted effort to spend quality time with his mother on a regular basis.

Cheryl was eventually placed at a local home for the Aged in Pietermaritzburg on an emergency basis. She had difficulty adjusting to the cramped space at the Home as she had the complete opposite on the small holding where livestock and other animals would walk pass her window daily and she cherished that interaction. Cheryl is well read, loves reading autobiographies and relates these without error. Her mind is very agile and she enjoys being challenged, is very assertive, dislikes being treated like an invalid and is sometimes misunderstood by staff (at the Home) for her boldness. Cheryl impresses as a staunch Christian who is not scared to voice her opinions and defends her faith admirably.

Prior to the lock-down (March 2020), Cheryl joined our weekly Daycare programme in January 2020, where she enjoyed being away from the Home and interacting with other patients with cancer. Her health started deteriorating during the lock down and Hospice staff were not allowed to visit her due to the pandemic restrictions. I noticed that she was becoming disillusioned with her situation and so began making regular telephonic contact in order to lift her spirits. This also gave her the space to talk about her upbringing, marriages, previous employment which she seems passionate about, her two deceased husbands, relationships with her adult children and their differences in personality, behaviour and demeanour as well as the latest book she is reading. I also prepared a goodie bag for the patient and had it delivered to the Home via security. I was only allowed to visit the patient once in Hospital despite being admitted on numerous occasions.

From July to December 2020, Cheryl has been admitted six times to Hospital for various medical interventions including pneumonia and a back operation. Before admission and on discharge from hospital, she has had to have a Covid test done. She tested negative on all occasions and on one occasion contracted the virus at a step down facility. On each occasion, when she returns to the Home she is isolated for 10 days and finds this experience demoralising but enjoys being away from her cramped room (This is the policy of the Home). Thus far she has had nine Covid tests done (the tenth will be done on discharge soon) as she is currently admitted at a local hospital. Despite all this she remains resilient and looks forward to her monthly visits/outings with her son (they have lunch together, go shopping and she has her hair done. Malcolm was refused any contact with his mother on Christmas day and on other occasions the Home would not give permission for Malcolm to visit because of the lock-down.

Cheryl’s story is one of survival, courage and perseverance amid the turmoil of a pandemic which has stripped people of their dignity and caused havoc amongst our elderly patients with life threatening illnesses. This story in its own way highlights the value of developing resilience among our patients. This work is undertaken by all members of the care team and each member has their own contribution to make. A patient who, despite all the set backs and difficulties that she has experienced in 2020, is still able to face each day with some optimism is a great achievement by our care team and in particular by Letitia (social worker).

Often we are asked about what does Hospice do. In many instances this can be answered by referring to the care we provide inter terms of managing and controlling pain and other distressing symptoms associated with a life-limiting and/or life threatening illness. However, there are instances where the simple answer to the question About what we do is simply put as, ‘we help patients (and their families) through specialised care to live and die well.’ Resilience is about helping people to live, to get up each day and face the challenges of that day without sinking into despair and despondency and giving up.

We care because you matter, help us to care for you.

Written by: Letitia Marais Social worker

(30 December 2020)

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