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4 years ago Alf, 74, began to experience breathing problems and chest pains. Thinking that it may be a heart condition, he went to see his doctor, who referred him to Frimley Park Hospital for tests. When the test results came back, it was confirmed that Alf was suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease which causes scarring of the delicate lung tissue, and for which there is no cure.
When he was given his diagnosis, Alf was told that he had 3 years to live. “Well, that was up last September,” he quips cheerfully, “so I’ve proven them wrong.”
Alf first came to Phyllis Tuckwell in 2013, after being referred by the Community Matron, who had been visiting him fortnightly since his diagnosis.
“From the drivers to the volunteers and nurses, they brighten up your day, they’ve always got a smile, and they’re so attentive.”
He attended Day Hospice once a week for eight weeks, returning again for another eight weekly visits in June 2014. “I didn’t need the oxygen the first time I came here,” he says, gesturing towards the cylinder which sits beside him. He now needs it 24 hours a day.
Born in Calcutta, India, in 1940, Alf moved to England when he was just 18, where he lodged with the family of a childhood friend who had left India the previous year. He found a job, but as his friends all began to be called up for National Service, Alf decided to join them, and they applied in unison for places in the RAF. Alf, however, was the only one to get in, embarking on a career which would last for 23 years, earn him a commendation in the Queen’s Honours List, and lead him to meet his now wife, Patricia, who was also in the RAF.
Alf and Patricia married, had two children - Paula and Russell – and were stationed together both in the UK and in Cyprus. When Alf finally left the RAF, the family moved to Watford, where Alf worked as a purchasing manager for a US company, before the couple decided to retire to Sandhurst. Alf’s illness, however, has since forced them to think hard about the future, and last year they decided to move to a retirement complex. “We’re settled there now,” he says. “It’s got a good social life; I know Patricia’s got friends there.”
When asked how he feels about the Hospice, Alf smiles. “It’s once a week and you look forward to it,” he says. “If you have any problems, they address them immediately. Last week I was feeling a bit down, and they were onto it straight away.”
“From the drivers to the volunteers and nurses, they brighten up your day, they’ve always got a smile, and they’re so attentive.” Alf is taken to and from the Hospice each week by a volunteer driver, giving Patricia the whole day to herself. “It’s important for her too,” he nods. “She needs that time for herself.”
Patricia and Paula have also attended sessions at the Hospice, which have been designed specifically for family members of patients facing a terminal illness, and Alf hopes to return for another eight weekly sessions at Day Hospice later in the year. “I look forward to coming,” he says. “When you’re here you socialise as well. We’re all in the same boat, so we understand each other’s problems.”
“The Hospice puts a smile on your face that you didn’t have before.”
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