In March, Midweek told the story of Helen Puaha, her terminal cancer diagnosis and how she had made the decision to have Hospice there to take some of the burden. Helen died on Anzac Day, sooner than expected but in the loving care of the staff at Hospice Whanganui, as she wanted.
For a young Maori woman to choose Hospice to take responsibility for her, rather than the traditional way of letting family look after her, was unusual, but her family accepted it, and, in time, appreciated her decision.
Hospice Whanganui supported Helen in her own home, letting the family be there as family, not full time caregivers.
Her friend, Kelly Scarrow, and her sister, Nadia Puaha, talk about Helen and how important Hospice care was to her, and tell the rest of her story.
Nadia believes Hospice did take some of the weight of responsibility from the family.
"Especially during the time leading up to ... being available for those phone calls at two in the morning. I remember another time when she was sick a couple of years ago and those calls were going to me, the NOT doctor, or to my dad, the other NOT doctor, so we were running up there at all hours of the night and morning, so having Hospice there, available for those calls was so helpful.
"And Tracey the social worker ... sending people to check up on her. I want to say they prioritised her, it felt like they did. They made it feel like she was top of the list, and they made sure she got what she needed straight away, which was a big help for us. If we didn't know what was happening, they would be able to answer questions."
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"It's not just the patients," says Kelly, who works at Hospice Whanganui. "It's the families as well who do a lot of the caregiving, and they need to be ok as well and have an understanding of what's going on and what support we can offer them. It is very much patient-focused but there's also the wrap-around care for the families, which is just as important."
"If I didn't know how to deal with something that Helen was going through, they were able to offer me advice," says Nadia. "They were really helpful that way, and they were clear, which gave me confidence to know what to do." She said there was a time when Helen slipped off the bed and she had been shown the technique for one person to be able to lift her back up. "They were helpful in a lot of ways."
Helen had wanted a family holiday in the South Island and that happened, although it was cut short.
"We got to Wellington and caught up with some family friends from when we were kids," says Nadia. "The we grabbed the ferry the next day to Picton and we drove to Christchurch from there. We stayed one night in Hanmer Springs, because she really wanted to go there and do the thermal pools, and she wanted to get her nails done and all the girlie stuff.
"She had started deteriorating from the ferry. With each day she was more tired, starting to lose her mobility." It was during a visit to friends in Little River that the family started thinking she may have to go to hospital.
Hospice Whanganui advised to get blood tests done and it was then that things were made quite clear that Helen was very unwell.
It was, in fact, Helen's choice to come home. "I can be a bit of a drill sergeant," says Nadia. "It was 4.30 in the morning and I started contacting people. We needed to get her home, whatever it takes."
By 4pm the family was told that Whanganui Hospital was sending a plane to take her home.
Kelly flew to Christchurch to be with Helen and the family and wait for the plane from the hospital. A flight nurse, Richard, accompanied the pilot, and Kelly flew back to Whanganui with Helen, arriving on April 24.
"It was an immediate transfer to an ambulance, really smooth," says Kelly. "Straight to Hospice."
"Hospice was ready for her when she got there," says Nadia. "They had the room ready and all warmed up.
"We had hoped to have been there when she passed away, but we weren't, so it was comforting to know that she was going to be in Hospice in a comfortable, warm bed. We felt settled, knowing that she was going where she wanted to be."
Helen called Hospice her "luxury hotel". She had toured Hospice much earlier and she had seen the rooms, including the one in which she died.
"When she came home, there were people waiting for us," says Kelly. "There were people in that room who loved her, but our hearts were also in Christchurch with her family."
Unfortunately, the family couldn't make it in time and they received a call from Kelly at 5.35 on Anzac Day morning to say Helen had died. Hospice kept Helen in her room until the family arrived, having convoyed from Wellington. They had time for their goodbyes before Cleveland Funeral Home took over.
"I feel like she had the best people looking after her all of the time," says Kelly.
Helen wanted to encourage other whanau to put themselves in the hands of Hospice, allowing the patient to stay in the comfort of their own home and allowing the family to have as much involvement as they wish. Hospice works closely with them all to ensure it's as stress-free as possible for the patient and the whole whanau.