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Hospice becomes place of healing for dying patient and his wife

15 February 2018

Andrew Veitch spent the end of his life at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, east London, which wife Liz describes as "as healing place. Somewhere that heals the soul and takes the rawness away so it is possible to go on.” This moving account describes how the hospice helped them come to terms with his terminal diagnosis.

Liz was married to Hackney man Andrew for almost  50 years, having met as 18 year old students, so when he developed the bone marrow disorder myelofibrosis in 2012, the impact was devastating for both of them.

As a highly successful journalist, having progressed during his career from local press to the Guardian and then to Channel 4, his skilful and incisive reporting on topics as wide-ranging as HIV, BSE, nuclear weapons and environmental issues meant he was highly regarded in the profession and had won numerous awards. In the words of Liz “the house was full of BAFTAS.”  He enjoyed a whisky too. “He could drink you under the table and still beat you to the story” according to one former colleague.

Andrew was also the force behind the hugely successful Broadway Market initiative, raising considerable sums of money for local charities including St Joseph’s. For several months after his death, Liz continued this work.

Described by her as a “man of steel” Andrew stubbornly refused to accept his diagnosis, putting additional pressure on his wife who found herself playing “let us pretend”. However a referral by Andrew’s GP to St Joseph’s Hospice ultimately played a significant, positive role for both the patient and his wife as his health deteriorated.

What surprised Liz about St Joseph’s was the joined-up approach, whereby both physical and emotional needs were skilfully addressed, both for Andrew and for herself. Having been introduced to St Joseph's Family Counsellor Jody, Liz found that her support, her willingness to just sit and natter - as well as the occasional massage – were like “an emotional hammock.”

Once it became clear that Andrew’s treatment was no longer working, and despite the excellent treatment at Barts Hospital, it was impossible for them to provide the depth of care that was needed, so St Joseph’s outreach workers visited him in his home.

Still finding it difficult to accept the outcome of his disease, articulated by his oft used term “I am not xxxxing dying,” the team sat round the kitchen table with Andrew and Liz for more than three hours, carefully encouraging him to “unravel the knot in his head.” The outcome was that Andrew’s main concern was for Liz, but having finally opened up he agreed to be admitted to St Joseph’s.

Andrew was able to experience the taste of whisky for a final time on a sponge and, encouraged by the hospice’s team, Liz and their two adult sons spent time with their father in their time-honoured fashion – over a few beers and “taking the mick.” It just felt like the right thing to do.

Liz had been through a hugely emotional journey with Andrew, but coming to St Joseph’s meant she went from despair to knowing that everything would be ok. Whilst devastated at losing her husband, the experience with the hospice enabled Liz to accept that the end of life was part of the cycle of life and death.

For more information visit St Joseph’s Hospice

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