Stella’s story – I was my husband’s main carer

After Stella Ford's husband, Alfred, was diagnosed with COPD, Stella became his main carer 24 hours a day without respite

When Stella Ford’s husband, Alfred, was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), an illness which leaves a patient increasingly breathless, Stella was adamant she wanted to care for Alfred at home.

Stella, 78 from Honiton, didn’t realise that help was available from local charity Hospiscare, who support people in Exeter, Mid and East Devon. Stella thought hospices were only for cancer patients and places where you went to die. However, Hospiscare supports patients from the onset of a life-limiting condition, providing support at home at the end of life and caring for patients with any type of terminal illness.

Alfred had been hospitalised for over four months, and Stella spent up to nine hours a day visiting him. Eventually, Alfred came home thanks to the local hospital kitting out the Fords’ home with a hospital bed, hoist, and all the equipment needed for Stella to look after Alfred. At this stage, Alfred could no longer stand up and was bed bound.

Hospiscare patient Alfred with his wife Stella

As Alfred’s main carer, Stella had a full on 24 hour day without any respite. It was only when a friend mentioned that Hospiscare could help that Stella came into contact with the organisation. Stella explains:

“Alfred was a farmer and I have been a farmer’s wife all my life, so I am well used to caring for animals. I think that experience of looking after the livestock on the farm meant it was no problem for me to look after Alfred as I am so used to feeding, washing and clearing up after others. But it was exhausting, I was on call 24 hours a day for Alfred.

“When my friend explained that Hospiscare might be able to help and we got referred it was such a relief.

“Hospiscare put us in touch with one of their Care Navigators, Peter Hill. The Care Navigators help you with the practicalities of life and Peter would come and sit with Alfred so I could get out and take a break. Without Peter’s help I wouldn’t have got out as much as I did. I managed to get into Exeter a couple of times to have lunch and go shopping with my daughter, which was amazing as before Hospiscare got involved I didn’t go anywhere.

“Peter got on so well with Alfred, I felt Alfred was safe with him. If Alfred was tired Peter would tell him to take a nap and Peter would be happy to just stay with him and read a book or watch the telly whilst Alfred rested. Peter used to grin because Alfred liked his whiskey. I would say to Peter before I left don’t forget the ‘magic milk’ in Alfred’s coffee! Alfred liked his coffee black with a shot of whiskey.

“Before Alfred became ill we had such an active life. We were both keen golfers and race horse owners. Horses were one of Alfred’s passions and we used to travel all over the country to the races and had 40 winners throughout the years.

Hospiscare patient Alfred with his wife Stella on their wedding day

“It was very hard to accept Alfred’s illness as he couldn’t go down to the yard any more or socialise and have a drink with his friends.

“In the last 10 days of his life our Hospiscare Community Nurse Specialist, Jayne, would come in three times a day and she would call me to check how things were. Jayne co-ordinated with other organisations as well so I had further support. When Alfred couldn’t speak anymore he would communicate to me when he was uncomfortable by squeezing my hand. Then I could get someone in to top up his medication.

“The evening Alfred died I was with him and so were the children. I was catching hold of his hands when he went. It was special to be at home where we all feel so comfortable. There is no way I would have wanted it to be any different. When I called the funeral director after Alfred died I said I wanted to keep Alfred at home with me that night until the morning. I wasn’t ready to let him go and watch the hearse take him away down the drive. I needed a bit of time to prepare for that.

“Even now Hospiscare are still helping me. You don’t feel like you are out on a limb with nobody there.

“It’s the little touches that make a difference. I still go along to the carers’ group they run that I went to when Alfred was alive. Peter has been in to check on how I’m doing. They had a service for carers over at Feniton church and it’s a comfort to talk to people who are in the same boat as you. Hospiscare have just been brilliant, they are very, very supportive and I am really grateful I had their help.”