Thursday, September 27, 2007

Seaside Hospice

This is "Fair Havens" Hospice in Westcliff-on-Sea, near Southend-on-Sea in Essex. I suppose it could be called "my local Hospice" as it's the nearest to my home. It's also one of the first hospices to have been established in UK, as it was opened in 1983, its inspiration coming directly from the teachings and example of Dame Cicely Saunders.

The caring work of Fair Havens (and its partner children's facility Little Havens) is 77% funded by charitable donations, both private and corporate, and only the lesser fraction comes from Government. This is true of almost all hospices in the UK. It is also true that no more than 4% of those who die actually end their days in a hospice bed. This small percentage takes no account, however, of the many more who are supported by Day Services operated by the hospice, by short-term respite and palliative care options, and through family support e.g. bereavement counselling and specialist social work intervention.

Today I attended a "Multi-Faith" get-together hosted by the chaplaincy team, and joined a tour of the premises, escorted by various members of hospice staff who answered questions and offered information. As can be seen by the photographs, the hospice comprises two detached (former) family homes that have been modified and joined together. Another similar building on the same plot provides the premises for Day Care. Amazing ingenuity has been used to make optimum use of the limited space for eight bedrooms, all the necessary ancillary rooms, toilets, bathrooms, offices, a chapel, restaurant etc etc without ever seeming claustrophobic or cramped. The level of housekeeping and comfort achieved is, in my opinion, incomparable; and the provision for nursing and medical care would rival the best-equipped hospital.

I was accompanied on my tour by a Muslim G.P., Dr Pasha, who has practised family medicine in Southend-on-Sea for 50 years; before that he worked and trained at a hospital in Stourbridge in the West Midlands. He recounted to me his interview with Matron, who inducted him properly in what it was appropriate for a young and inexperienced doctor to do, and what he should not do, on pain of her displeasure. And he recollected being taught by a Ward Sister how to practise venepuncture to collect a specimen of blood, without causing the patient bruising or pain. In conversation with this man, one could not imagine a more gracious and delightful companion.

As it is the Muslim month of Ramadan, Dr Pasha eschewed the offer of tea and cake from his hosts. He told me that, at sundown when it is permissible to eat and drink, he is content to drink a little water and eat a morsel of food; then he allows his body to relax and prepare for a meal later in the evening. He told me that it is usual for younger people to fall hungrily on the food as soon as it is time to eat but, for the older man, a little restraint is more seemly and better for the constitution.

Dr Pasha was generous in his appreciation of the virtues of Christendom in practising love-in-action. He said that, with Islam, he thought Christianity was a religion that engaged with real-life suffering and deprivation where it found it. His view was that, in their belief in an after-life, Christians and Muslims invested this earthly life with a special meaning and significance for action by believers, not in the hope of reward or fear of punishment in the hereafter, but rather so as to help bring heaven closer to earth while they lived, for its own sake.

There wasn't much time to discuss the possible merits of dharma, nor did it seem the right place to do so, but it was an enjoyable and heart-warming experience overall, an opportunity to refresh friendships with colleagues, to meet new people, and to gain fresh knowledge and inspiration for the future.

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