I met Christine, on sunny day in Bulawayo. When we met she was sitting in her one roomed house. The room was dark – the curtains, doors and windows all shut. Christine had her head covered by a heavy blanket. I switched on the light and heard her crying. She had not bathed or eaten for some time and had a large wound on her leg that was seeping. She told me she was waiting for her niece to return home from school to cook for her, bath and dress her wound. Christine was in severe physical pain and she could barely lift up her legs. She told us that she was living with Kaposi Sarcoma – an HIV related cancer.
By Busisiwe Mashiri, Bulawayo Branch Coordinator & Palliative Care Nurse
Christine was also in emotional pain and needed to talk. She cried profusely as she shared her grievances. She expressed anger at herself as she was once a self-sufficient and independent woman and was now bed-ridden. Christine felt bitter towards her family who hardly visited her. They had left her in the care of a teenager. She was disappointed with this telling me that she had cared for her 3 sisters and brother when they were younger, and she felt sad they were not helping care for her today. Christine often said, ‘why me’. She said she had prayed several times asking God to heal her and because she was not getting better she was angry that God was not helping her.
Palliative care is about managing all pain and symptoms associated with a life-threatening illness be it physical pain, emotional pain, or spiritual pain. We worked as a team and found a caregiver from the community to assist Christine with bathing and dressing. This meant that her young niece could focus on school and seeing friends. Her niece was encouraged to open the windows every morning to allow fresh air and light into the room. Medication to control pain was provided as well as ongoing education and support on the importance of adherence.
I visited Christine again last week and was surprised how much had changed. Christine had that morning opened the curtains and windows herself. She smiled when she saw us. Instead of finding her under a blanket she was sitting on her neatly made bed watching TV, bathed and her wounds dressed. She had done all these tasks by herself and proudly told us this.
Island is currently providing counselling to Christine’s siblings on how best to resolve historical conflicts so that they will be able to support her. With permission from Christine the Island clinical team also engaged her church leaders to assist her spiritually. She expressed her appreciation for liaising with her church as she is now regularly visited by members of her congregation. When I spoke to Christine last she told me that she is working through her relationships with her family and that one of her brothers had visited.
World Hospice and Palliative Care Day falls on 13 October 2018 under the theme Palliative Care – Because I Matter.
About Island Hospice & Healthcare
Island Hospice & Healthcare was established in 1979 as the first palliative care institution in Africa. Island has branches in Bulawayo, Harare, Marondera and Mutare. In 2017 Island was chosen by the World Health Organization to be evaluated as a demonstration site for Africa. For more information about the services on offer or to contact a branch near you please visit www.islandhospice.care