“Look what they’re doing for me – this is five-star treatment.”
These aren’t the words of someone being pampered in the surroundings of a luxury spa, but a special lady in the care of St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, whose service is holistic, helping their terminally ill patients create special memories with loved ones and focussing on what matters to them rather than just what’s the matter with them.
For Tracey Dunne from Dartmoor, who is in her 50s and receiving the charity’s care at its specialist unit at Turnchapel, this has included ensuring her husband Tim can spend as much time as possible at her side and even going the extra mile to reunite her with Malone, her beloved 17-year-old horse.
Recognising both the comfort animals can bring and the importance of making memories when time is running short, St Luke’s worked with the big-hearted stables at Buckland Monochorum to enable Tracey, who has cancer, to spend precious time with her loyal steed in the grounds of the unit.
Out in the sunshine, Tracey found solace as Malone nuzzled her hand, providing comfort as only an old, trusted friend can. But that’s not all because back inside Tracey’s room Betty the Budgie, Tracey and Tim’s much-loved pet, was waiting. Their feathered friend has been made welcome by St Luke’s as part of creating a comfortable home from home for the couple at such a challenging time.
Married for almost 30 years, Tracey and Tim met in the 1980s when Tracey spent a year at Tim’s employer, Taylor, Lane and Creber, as part of her degree in building surveying. Tracey went on to become a well-respected buildings conservation consultant whose work, including for the MoD, has taken her far and wide. Away from work, she has always loved being outside, especially on Dartmoor, enjoying nature and getting muddy. She is a gifted artist, too, often drawing from photographs taken by Tim.
Tim said: “Tracey is so talented, kind and always thinking of others – one of the many memories I treasure is of her in pink pyjamas, doing a charity abseil down the Civic Centre.
“While we’ve played the St Luke’s lottery for years because we’re aware of the outstanding work of the charity – and have often joked that the guy who collects our subs has a knack for calling when I’m down to the last fiver in my pocket – we never guessed it would be us needing the service they provide.”
With Tracey having been looked after by St Luke’s at Derriford Hospital, at home and at the specialist unit, Tim has witnessed the charity’s compassionate care in action with staff taking the time to get to know the couple, sensitively explain treatment and make Tracey as comfortable as possible, paying close attention to what matters to her.
He said: “When you hear the term ‘hospice care’ it is frightening and, while the fear doesn’t go away completely, I’m in awe of the way St Luke’s has been alongside us throughout – it’s given us both such an overriding sense of peace.
“When Tracey needed care at home, nurse Derek came to visit. It wasn’t just his specialist knowledge that helped but his empathy, too. He had a really good rapport with Tracey and knew just how to encourage her to describe her pain and other symptoms so that he could expertly manage them.
“Then, when Tracey needed to be in hospital, the St Luke’s team on Brent Ward always treated us with the utmost respect and went out of their way, despite many other demands on their time.
“Even with such reassuring experience of St Luke’s, the realisation that Tracey needed to be admitted to the hospice building felt daunting. It’s not what you’d expect at all though. In a sense there are many parallels with our home because it’s bright, airy and enjoys stunning views. It’s been comforting for both of us that I’ve been able to stay by Tracey’s side, and from the nurses to the cleaning staff and receptionists, kindness is everywhere.
“Tracey and I always speak openly with each other and with her receiving such expert care, we’ve had the space to have difficult but necessary conversations. As she wanted, we have even been able to discuss her wishes for her funeral.
“From the beautiful gardens to the wonderful way they’ve enabled Betty to be with us and helped reunite Tracey with Malone, I will always be so grateful to St Luke’s and remember the big smile they put on my beautiful wife’s face.”