When he first came into the hospice as an in-patient, Mick Reed was convinced he wouldn’t be leaving.
But the former sportsman has since learnt that hospices are not just there for people in the last few days of life and is now living independently in his own home in Croydon again.
When he was discharged, Mick was supported by St Christopher’s team of Allied Health Professionals (physios, dieticians, occupational therapists etc) as well as the community nursing team. He quickly regained some of his weight and now can get up and down the stairs again.
“When they advised me to go there, the first thing I thought was that I would never come out,” he says of the moment doctors at Croydon University Hospital referred him to St Christopher’s. “They tried to convince me I was going in for respite, but I thought it was to pass away. But they’ve done such a great job.”
Both Mick’s sister and brother-in-law died at the hospice, but it was only when his cancer stopped responding to treatment that he experienced St Christopher’s care first hand.
“I learned what St Christopher’s is all about and that’s care and attention,” he says. “They don’t leave you alone for five minutes. I had a room on my own and they left the door slightly open and they would not pass without coming in to see that I was ok. They look after you so well and I wouldn’t be like I am now if it wasn’t for those nurses – no way at all.”
What stands out most for Mick about the care he received was being treated like an individual.
He added: “I wasn’t a patient; I was a person they all got friendly with. They made you feel different and looked after me so well, I can’t fault them in any way. Nothing was too much trouble for anyone.”
Mick certainly needed some building up. His weight had dropped from 11 to just nine stone when he was admitted. Now he’s back up to 10 stone two pounds and takes a regular weekly call from the hospice dietician. A six-week course in the gym with the physio has been another key factor in helping make him strong enough to cope at home.
“That pulled me round. I was very low. I was on the ward when they first took me – I was in a wheelchair – and did all the minor exercises. I went for six weeks for an hour and loved it. It was the best thing ever. I love training – like for football or boxing and the physio pushed me.”
Despite putting on weight and building up his strength, Mick wasn’t certain he wanted to leave the comfort of the in-patient unit when the doctor told him he was ready to go home.
“I wasn’t sure I was ready. I just didn’t want to leave the safety of the hospice – I felt really safe in there. And I didn’t think I’d feel safe at home. They were right though to send me home and to do things.”
A new mattress and a commode were just two of the practical items the community team installed for Mick to aid his move home. He’s now walking about and climbing the stairs as well as working on restoring his garden to its former glory.
It was Mick’s physio that recommended a further service that’s had a hugely positive outcome on his mental wellbeing – a weekly bereavement group.
“The first time, I got to the doors and someone came up behind me and asked if I was new and offered to take me in. I said I was just going home but they stopped me and took me in.”
“I’m so glad they did,” he adds. It’s given him the space to reflect on the death of his wife of 54 years, Sandy. The couple met at Mick’s sister’s wedding and were inseparable until she died in October 2021.
“The bereavement group is so relaxing and laid back,” says Mick. “It’s really done me the power of good. We’ve all lost someone and it helps so much, even though I didn’t think it would. There’s really no pressure and you don’t have to talk about your bereavement.”
The volunteer-run group is one of a dozen facilitated by St Christopher’s across South East London, taking place in church halls, community centres and other spaces. The one Mick attends takes place right next to the Sydenham Hospice at St Christopher’s Center for Awareness and Response to End of Life. It’s a real mark of the total turnaround in the way Mick thinks about hospice care that not only would he recommend it to others, but that he returns each week to the place where he thought he was going to die.
“I love to go back and see the people who looked after me. I just got looked after so well,” he says, adding: “If I met anyone who was nervous, I would just say you’ll get looked after so, so well and everyone has got time for you.”