Bernadette and John reflect on Christmases past and 35 years at St Catherine’s Hospice
Two popular nurses are looking back at 35 happy years at St Catherine’s Hospice as they are presented with long-service accolades for their ongoing commitment.
Bernadette Baxter and John Jackson both started working at the Lostock Hall hospice in the year that it opened. Here, they share some of their fondest memories from Christmases and the early days of St Catherine’s.
Bernadette, who was the first member of staff to be appointed in 1985 after the matron, Elizabeth Swarbrick, said: “I had no idea what to expect when I started, and in that first week we were out buying towels and other things in preparation for patients.
“It was fascinating really. The first six months were actually very quiet and I didn’t think that I would stay for too long, but as the services developed and it got busier, it felt like all of a sudden the job ticked all the boxes for me. I felt so satisfied with the work we were doing and how we were helping people. That’s what made me stay.”
On April 29, 1985 – the feast of St Catherine of Siena – Day Care opened at the hospice followed by the inpatient unit (IPU) on July 8.
“I remember the first patient we welcomed to Day Care,” Bernadette recalls. “His wife told us that we were in for a tough day because he never spoke, but in the end he never shut up! Matron’s mum made a lovely lunch which we all had together, with a custard tart for afters, and we just had a really nice day.
“It started to build up from there. The uniforms hadn’t even been chosen at that point. It was an interesting time at the beginning because we had time to find our feet and get a feel for what people needed from us. My time was then split between Day Care and the inpatient unit, and it was nice to see the difference St Catherine’s made to families as well as patients; it gave them some respite from providing care. We had some really dedicated volunteers from the start, and of course we continue to be so wonderfully supported by volunteers today, right across the charity.”
Bernadette, who lives in Leyland and is now a Physician Assistant at the hospice, has had her fair share of adventures during her time at St Catherine’s, including doing a daring skydive and a firewalk to raise funds for the cause in recent years.
“Christmas is always a special time of year at the hospice,” she adds. “I remember one year we put baubles up on the ceiling all the way round IPU – it took us hours! I still see some of those baubles on the Christmas trees now and it makes me smile.
“One Day Care patient was really good at weaving and he made lots of wicker bins which still pop up every now and then as well.
“This Christmas will obviously be very different but the most poignant thing about this time of year is making sure patients are comfortable and settled, and that reassures their relatives too. The staff at St Catherine’s really do care – the care we provide is emotional and holistic as well as clinical and professional, and that essence of hospice care has never been lost.
“It’s also rewarding to see staff develop and achieve their dreams. Things are always moving forward and I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know that I have always been very happy at St Catherine’s.”
John, a Nursing Assistant on IPU, also has many fond memories from the past 35 years, including chopping down a 20ft Christmas tree and even meeting his wife in the hospice’s corridors!
“I’d been in the army for a short time and had a few different jobs but couldn’t seem to settle with anything,” he says. “Then I went for the job at St Catherine’s and Bernadette interviewed me along with matron. Apparently matron wasn’t so sure about me but Bernadette convinced her to give me a go!
“Sometimes I wonder where the time has gone! I met my wife at St Catherine’s as she was working on IPU when I was still in Day Care, and I knew as soon as I saw her that I would marry that girl. We tied the knot seven months later.”
John, from Lostock Hall, also recalls the matron serving Christmas lunch to patients, and a police officer and police horse would always visit the grounds on Christmas Eve. The mayors also visit during the festive season – a tradition which has continued but has been postponed this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The old caretaker Jim Newton used to dress up as Santa for the patients’ families too,” John adds. “He once asked me to go along with him to a house on Todd Lane South because a man wanted to donate a Christmas tree.
“We got there and he handed us a saw and took us to this 20ft Christmas tree in his garden. He offered us a whiskey but I was on duty so had to decline!
“And someone used to anonymously leave a Christmas tree at the back door of the hospice with a note saying it was for Day Care. That went on for years and we never knew who it was.”
Today St Catherine’s continues to help people experience quality of life to the end of life, providing specialist palliative and end-of-life care at the hospice as well as in people’s own homes. The charity also provides many forms of emotional support and advice to patients, their loved ones, and the wider community – including carer support and bereavement counselling – along with education and training for other healthcare professionals.
St Catherine’s must raise £4million of its annual £5.8million running costs every single year, with £1.8m provided by the NHS. Fundraising efforts have been greatly impacted by the pandemic in 2020, with the charity’s big community events like Yellow Day and the Christmas Festival being cancelled, The Mill café and shops having to close for months at a time, and door-to-door lottery collections ceasing.
– If you would like to support your local hospice with a donation this Christmas, or set up a direct debit to make a regular monthly contribution to help St Catherine’s through the aftermath of the pandemic in 2021 and beyond, please click here or call 01772 629171.
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