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Don’s story: Life after his referral to St Barnabas

Wednesday 19 February 2020

“You can’t have me yet mate, I’m not coming!”

Don Pearman, 88, was referred to St Barnabas House in July 2019 after being told he had incurable heart failure. Here, Don talks about his diagnosis and the transformative effect the hospice has had on his life which he says is “worth living again”.

“Before I was diagnosed with heart failure, I’d been in and out of hospital three times. No one could figure out what was wrong with me and the doctors were very vague. I’d gone from being an active 87-year-old, volunteering in my spare time, to being stuck in hospital. It was hard to get my head around what was happening.

Don PearmanAll I knew was that I just felt so dreadfully ill. I remember thinking to myself, what have I got to live for now? I’d lost my wife of 49 years, Doreen, in 2004 and it had really shaken me when about four years later, my daughter Karen was also diagnosed with cancer and lived for just a few months. Then, four years ago, my son Richard who lived in Canada sadly passed away from cancer too.

Now that I had also had my health taken away from me, I couldn’t see a future. I was thinking, for god’s sake, just let me go. If it wasn’t for my caring friend, Jean, who used to a be a counsellor and a nurse, I’m not sure I would have been able to pull myself out of those dark days.

After lots of tests, I was told I had heart failure and referred to St Barnabas House where I was invited to visit their Day Hospice for a day a week.

I was confused as I thought that St Barnabas was just for cancer patients in the last few weeks of their life. I didn’t realise that it was for people with lots of different illnesses and I didn’t know that you could visit for a day and then go home.

It was my two wonderful grandsons, Richard and Tim, who persuaded me to give it a go. They said, why not try it out Grandad, you can go there for a few weeks and see if you like it.

It’s totally different to what I thought it would be. As soon as I walked through the door for the first time, I could feel the happiness. Even though people are unwell, I could hear laughter and joking. There was such a lovely atmosphere.

I thought a hospice was just a row of beds with people on their way out, but it was a lovely surprise to find nice wide open spaces, full of light and comfy furniture.

I’ve lived on my own for most of the time since 2004 and I get by alright, but it’s nice to get out the house and be around other people. Ever since I joined the Royal Air Force at 18, I’ve really valued companionship and at St Barnabas House there’s a sense of community which I love. Everyone makes time to chat to me and ask how I’m feeling.

The time whizzes by. There’s a lot of joking about, activities, good food (plenty of it!) and I can even have a massage which really helps my back.

I particularly look forward to our trips out with the gang for a nice cup of tea and a chat. We’ve been to Shoreham Airport, Haskins Garden Centre and Highdown Vineyard.

Since I have been coming to the Day Hospice it has been the best thing that has happened to me. The nurses and volunteers are just so brilliant. They really care and nothing is too much trouble for them. You won’t find a nicer lot, or better people.

I also have a volunteer St Barnabas Community Companion visit me once a week at home for a few hours which helps break the week up. We sit and natter and she tells me all about what she’s been up to and I try to keep her entertained with stories of the mad things I used to get up to.

The whole experience has turned around my perspective on life. Thanks to St Barnabas, my life is worth living again.”

Don also participates in the St B’s Schools Project alongside other fellow patients. Read about how he and Ollie, a 10 year schoolboy, met at the hospice and became pen pals.