“Hospice care is about making every moment count”

Archie Ryder is a real character.  He is also a patient at St Elizabeth Hospice.  When Archie enters the building in Foxhall Road you know that the banter and laughter levels are set to increase!

But Archie’s story is far from being a happy one.  Five years ago he was working as a tower crane driver and earning a good wage.  He was going about his business as usual when a visit to the doctor changed his life for ever.  

Archie explains:  “I was told that I had problems with my heart.  I had a stent put in and was treated for Angina but later found out that I had coronary heart disease.  Then one day I coughed, not badly, but the impact broke my ribs.  Following a bone scan I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, my bones were thin like cigarette paper.”  

If that wasn’t enough for one person to cope with, Archie’s health continued to deteriorate.  He now suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a progressive lung disease as well as Type 2 diabetes and associated conditions that affect his throat and stomach.  Archie said: “Because I have COPD I can’t be operated on for my other ailments.  My back is broken in four places – the result of another cough – but it can’t be repaired, which is why I’m now in a wheelchair.”

So how does someone with so many health problems manage to be so cheerful?  Archie explains:  “I don’t mind admitting it; St Elizabeth Hospice pulled me out of a very dark hole.  In the early days of my illness I hardly came out of my bedroom but then I was referred to the hospice by my GP and Dr Bengtson took over the whole of my care.  That’s when my life started to get better.  It took a few visits before I realised that the hospice wasn’t somewhere where people just go to die; it’s somewhere where you learn to live again.  It’s like a big family.  Everyone cares, no-one judges.  There’s a happy atmosphere all the time and everyone – whoever they are – will always smile, stop and talk to you.”

Archie takes full advantage of the many services provided by the hospice.  He attends regularly for medical check-ups with the doctor and sees a counsellor weekly to talk through any issues and concerns.  He uses the day centre once a week where he meets with a nurse for discussions about his health, after which he enjoys time socialising with the many friends he has made.  

Due to his commitment and determination working out in the hospice gym, together with support from the on-site dietician, Archie has lost three stone in weight and feels much better.  He says:  “I’m a lot fitter.  I now even use the treadmill for a short time with support – not bad for someone in a wheelchair!”  

Archie has also seen the benefits of utilising the services provided by occupational therapy.  He explains:  “I now have a better quality of life at home because they arranged for a stair lift, bath lift and hospice bed to be installed in my home.  It’s made a big difference to me and my wife Christine.  Christine is my main carer, she has given up a lot for me and the hospice helps her too.  If she needs support or advice she has access to a counsellor (a different counsellor to the one I see). She likes the hand massages provided by the complementary therapists.  Once a year when I come to the hospice for a week’s respite she gets time to herself; it’s good for both of us.”

Archie’s approach to life seems to be having a positive effect on other patients too.  He said to one man who was referred to the hospice after being told he had three months to live, “Don’t worry about it, fight it, pretend nothing is wrong and enjoy whatever time you have left”.  The same man still socialises with Archie at the hospice three years on!  Another patient recently came up to Archie and said: “Thank you for telling me not to give up, keep fighting and do what they say”.   

Such ‘straight-talking’ by Archie is not reserved only for his fellow patients.  As an active member of The Larch Project, which brings together children from local schools and patients from the hospice, Archie’s first words to a group of children were: “I’m in a wheelchair but only because I can’t walk.  I’m the same as you so let’s get on with it!”  The Larch Project is proving to be hugely successful.  

It has been running for five years and its aim is to tackle taboos around death.  Small groups of children are matched with patients like Archie who volunteer their time and they are asked to do a mutual exchange.  For example a child may bring in a photo of their family and the patient may show them their sporting trophies; sharing in this way demonstrates that every person has a life, history and story.  

Over a four week period each group creates something, whether it’s a piece of art, a song, or dance, or even a drama performance, then at the end of the month, teachers, parents, hospice staff and carers are invited to join in a celebration where they present their hard work and speeches are given.  Archie says: “It’s important that children see people living with an illness and The Larch Project gives them a good experience of what a hospice is about.  I enjoy giving my time to the children, we have fun.”

Whilst Archie’s presence at the hospice never fails to go unnoticed due to his fun-loving personality and playful antics, there is a serious side to this brave man.  When asked how St Elizabeth Hospice has impacted his life he replies:  “They have given me my life back.  If I ever feel depressed they always lift me out.  I’ve experienced loads of things at the hospice – all good.  The doctors, nurses, staff, volunteers are absolutely brilliant and I’m not one for praising anyone up.  I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the hospice.  They saved my life.”

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