This Life: Matron of dishonour

Charlie, my husband, had prostate cancer. Medical staff seemed
to be pushing him to go into a hospice for terminally ill people. I
desperately wanted him home with me but we drifted into it, not
knowing what was going on.

At first glance the hospice looked pleasant enough but I sensed the
staff were not dedicated. Nobody came into Charlie’s room, and I
began to feel uneasy.

Several incidents reinforced this unease. First, I looked for the
matron. She was in the television room and I asked whether I could
take my husband home.

She ignored me and continued watching television. I waited until
she chose to acknowledge me. Not looking at me she said: “You do
know the prognosis don’t you?” I answered: “Partly. I know Charlie
has cancer.”

This callous woman then went into details of what would happen to
Charlie. Cancer was going into his bones and would end up in his
brain, killing him. She said it as if she were reading out a
shopping list. I sat stunned, horrified by her lack of feeling. As
she went on about the horrors that awaited us, that he would die
soon, I said: “How long will my husband live?” She looked up at the
ceiling and, casually calculating Charlie’s lifespan said:
“Oh…err..four months.”

To be at home Charlie needed a hospital bed and we needed an extra
bedroom to accommodate it. I requested the matron write to the
council housing department to speed things up. Did she help? Not a
bit. She said: “No chance, he won’t live that long.” She said
Charlie had also asked her and she’d rung the doctor and the doctor
had said the same about his time left. In their eyes he was dying
and he wasn’t worth the effort.

Charlie came home anyway. As we left the hospice the matron asked
me: “Do you know what this entails?” I told her I’d been an
auxiliary nurse and could look after my own husband. Her mouth hung
open before she said Charlie would be back at the hospice. I had to
bite back the words, “Over my dead body”. At that moment I couldn’t
believe how cruel she was. She had disregarded my husband’s
feelings and spoke to me over his head, as if he didn’t exist and
as if I had no feelings. I looked at Charlie’s sick, sad face and
left that place with our heads held high.

Looking back, I suspect she told Charlie he was dying because he
then became afraid. We did get the home we needed thanks to our
social worker.

But thanks to matron, Charlie was terrified to sleep. With a death
sentence hanging over him, he was aware of it night and day. As for
me, I was filled with anguish, waiting for the cancer to reach his
brain, terrified he would become insane.

In the end the matron was wrong on all three counts: the cancer did
not reach his brain as Charlie was mentally alert to the last,
despite heavy doses of morphine; he lived for eight more months;
and he never went back to the hospice.

Elizabeth Rogers (not her real name) was a carer for her
late husband

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