Tim Roxburgh spent six months at Christine Morrison Hospice in Mission. He is one of three who has made it out alive and he said the amazing supportive culture at hospice gave him the extra push to recover. / Miranda Gathercole Photo

Home from hospice, in time for Christmas

Tim Roxburgh said it was the supportive care at Mission Hospice that made it all possible

Tim Roxburgh has had the unique experience of going back home after spending six months at Christine Morrison Hospice in Mission.

When you go to hospice for end-of-life care, it’s not expected that you will leave again. But the Langley man did just that, and he has shared with people what helped to bring him home.

Last January, Roxburgh collapsed and ended up in emergency with a serious case of cirrhosis, a complication of liver disease.

He ended up in Abbotsford Hospital for three weeks and was sent home only to go right back. He was in hospital until May and was deteriorating every day. The environment of a hospital is not a healing setting, said Roxburgh.

“I was told I was about two weeks from dead and they offered me a bed at the Christine Morrison Hospice in Mission. It was available so I took it,” he said.

When he arrived at hospice, he couldn’t do anything, not even get out of bed without the aid of nurses.

“I’m a pretty independent guy and having to get someone to help me for everything wasn’t working for me,” he laughs.

He also had a very important goal to reach. He wanted to live long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. With the support of his daughters and the quality care at the hospice, Roxburgh not only escorted his daughter down the aisle using a walker, he also walked out of hospice alive, using a cane.

He said the personalized care and supportive atmosphere makes a world of difference for those who are dying and for those who do leave hospice alive.

“After six months there, I guess I graduated,” he joked.

Physicians gave him the all clear to go home.

“The doctors are amazed about my recovery. I am too,” he said.

After his amazing experience at the Mission Hospice, Roxburgh recently met with staff at the Langley Hospice to share some of the ideas he has for the new 15-bed stand-alone hospice planned for Langley.

Hospice isn’t run by the rules like a hospital, he points out.

“If you want to bring in outside food because you don’t like what’s on the menu one day, they are OK with that. I like to wake up and have a warm cup of soup at night. The nurses accommodated that. They accommodate to the individual’s needs and wants. It takes a special kind of person to be staff and volunteer at hospice.”

While there, Roxburgh implemented Float Fridays, which meant that every Friday, the staff would organize ice cream and pop and offer floats to residents who could have one.

“You’d be amazed how many people have never had a float before,” he said.

Then he created Sunday Suppers once a month.

“All residents, family, friends, staff and volunteers were welcome. We’d sometimes have 40 people there. Not everyone can take part, but everyone is welcome. For those who wanted food, they would have it brought to their room.”

Jane Godfrey, patient care co-ordinator at the Christine Morrison Hospice, said Roxburgh left a legacy there.

“Tim arrived with a prognosis that wasn’t good. He had no appetite and couldn’t do anything on his own. But he thrived here and before he left he was putting up Christmas decorations,” Godfrey said.

“We allowed him to be the leader in his own care. We treat the whole person. We are passionate about honouring the patient’s wishes and goals. It’s been an honour to walk that journey with Tim.”

When people go to hospice they are receiving end-of-life care. Godfrey said the focus is about quality living and quality dying.

And at the hospice, they have the most beautiful garden Roxburgh said he has ever seen, adding it was his favourite place – outside enjoying the flowers.

The garden motivated him to become mobile enough that he could visit it anytime he wanted without help. In the summer, he started photographing the flowers.

A bed in Langley opened up about three weeks into Roxburgh’s stay at Christine Morrison, but he turned it down.

“I was really happy in Mission,” he said.

Roxburgh got to know the “marvelous” staff and “amazing” volunteers who he described as a constant form of support.

“The way the staff and volunteers work together. It’s an amazing system,” he said.

Godfrey agrees. She has been there since 2005 and notes that there is little turnover of staff because they are so passionate about their work.

Each room is private, with a TV, telephone and wifi, offering a home-like setting. And unlike a hospital, there aren’t rules.

“If a person really wanted a beer one night, it can be accommodated if the doctor says it’s OK,” Roxburgh said.

If you aren’t able to get out of your room, volunteers come to you.

“They offer a blanket, to get you a cup of coffee, or just have a chat. Whatever it is you need, they make it happen,” he said.

In his working life, Roxburgh was a bus driver for more than 30 years and loved every day of it.

In fact, he’s hoping to get back on the road.

“My doctor OK’d for me to take my Class 2 driver’s test,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that.”

While some might choose to stay away from hospice after being one of the few people who can leave it alive, Roxburgh has already been back to visit and to attend a Sunday supper.

Christine Boyes, coordinator of volunteer services for the Mission Hospice Society, said Tim’s case is rare, but not unique.

“It does happen. There are a percentage of people who have a palliative diagnosis and their symptoms are not well-treated,” she said, adding many are living with increased pain or nausea and tiredness.

“When they get into a facility where they have a great team of care, their symptoms get under control and they blossom.”

According to Boyes, when Roxburgh arrived at the Mission hospice, he was in a wheelchair and not mobilizing.

In Mission, the “team of care” began to work with him.

“It’s not just the physical being treated. It’s the mental, it’s the emotional and it’s the spiritual as well.”

Boyes said Roxburgh found a purpose, a role – creating the float days and suppers – and it helped him overall.

Hospice provides people with a home when they can no longer live at home. While some people want the opportunity to die at home, Boyes said it can be very hard on the family as they become the caregivers and are on duty 24/7.

“When a loved one comes into hospice, they no longer have to worry about those things. We say to family members, ‘You can now be the family member again. You can be the wife, you can be the daughter, you can visit.’ You can make memories of living well, before your loved ones die.”

Mission Hospice is also a place that cares for the family as well.

“It’s not just for the patient, or the resident, as we call them. It’s the whole family unit that gets cared for. So how is the daughter doing, how are the grandkids doing, how is the wife coping and what can we do to support them?”

Boyes said when Roxburgh came in, he benefited from great support.

“His goal was to get to his daughter’s wedding and he did that and then he just kept going from there. It’s like he put his running shoes on and kept on going after that.”

– with files from Kevin Mills

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