“It has been an honour and a privilege to work alongside a true ellenor legend, and whilst we rate Carol’s baking skills as one of her best talents, they pale into insignificance when compared to her ability as a nurse.  She oozes compassion and kindness, has a wicked sense of humour, but most importantly always does what is right for her patients.  We have learned so much from her, not just as healthcare professionals but also as human beings.  Carol is, for sure, one of life’s great people.” Andrew Lowden, Operational Wellbeing Lead

In 2022, Carol Fitzpatrick celebrated her 25-year anniversary at ellenor. 

Sitting with her in the hospice over a cup of coffee – speaking to Carol about the quarter of a century she’s dedicated to ellenor – is a beautiful moment. But a bittersweet one, too.

Because, with retirement awaiting and a new set of roles and responsibilities ahead, Carol’s 25th year at ellenor will also be her last with the charity.

So, in commemorating Carol’s extraordinary ellenor career – and celebrating the even more extraordinary woman who’s led it – let’s wind back the clock.

To 1997.

The first Harry Potter book was released. Oasis’s third album was breaking records. And our country’s favourite princess died, tragically and unexpectedly.

Yet away from the headlines and heartbreak, a young woman by the name of Carol Fitzpatrick was considering a career change.

“As a community nurse, I used to see ellenor’s respite nurses going to see patients,” Carol explains. Respite nurses provide short-term relief for primary caregivers: allowing them to run errands, care for other family members, or simply take some much-needed time off. 

“Those nurses were able to spend literally hours with a patient. I wanted to be able to do that, too. So I applied and was overjoyed to join the respite team. That’s how my ellenor journey began!”

Carol’s eyes glimmer as she recalls her love for her role.

“I loved working as a respite nurse, and helping the Hospice at Home team. There was no electronic-notes system, no computers; our notes were all paper based. It was just so different!”

Carol’s compassion, empathy, and commitment to care saw her go from strength to strength in her role. And, in 2000, she took the next step – successfully interviewing for a position setting up a new Patient Activity Group (PAG) in Dartford. 

Along with Sue Pitcher, an experienced Healthcare Assistant, Carol spent ten years running this PAG until its closure in 2010. That’s not to say it did so without fanfare – as the life and soul of the party, Carol ensured the PAG’s decade of supporting Dartford’s life-limited patients wouldn’t go uncelebrated.

Carol still has the photo album Sue gave her – which is overflowing with messages of gratitude from all the groups’ patients – and has it with her. She pushes it across the table.

Inside are references to Carol’s excellent cooking and baking prowess. There’s a caricature of Carol, drawn by an artistically gifted former volunteer named Bill. And a humorous reference to the ‘big knickers saga’ that has Carol struggling to suppress a cheeky grin.

Flicking through the album’s photos and pages packed with handwritten messages, it’s clear to see – no patient of Carol’s will ever forget her.

But nor does Carol forget her patients. Asked about the most memorable moments of her career, Carol first relates the story of a man, in his 30s, with cancer. Carol cared for him, in his own home, in the last weeks of his life. On the day he died, Carol – sensing it – opted to remain with him, and his partner, until he passed.

“At the funeral, I told his wife he was a real star. She said ‘no – you were his star’.

“I’ll never forget that.”

Carol also relates helping a patient with motor neurone disease down the aisle at his daughter’s wedding – so he could give her away. Between organising transport to and from the service and helping him remove – and later reattach – his mask before the ceremony, Carol and the team fulfilled his most important wish.

Carol’s career has contained moments of the profound; the poignant. But it hasn’t been without plenty of hilarity, too.

During one Christmas production, with Operational Wellbeing Lead Andy Lowden on the keyboard, Carol was part of the backing band. Yet, as one song finished and Andy began the opening riff of Boy George’s classic hit Karma Chameleon, Carol had a surprise up her sleeve.

“When Andy launched into the chorus, I came on stage in a chameleon costume,” Carol chuckles. “He had no idea I was going to do that – his face was just a picture!”

While chameleons blend into the background, though, Carol has rarely done the same – winning the hearts and minds of patients, families, and her fellow ellenor team members with her vibrant, vivacious personality. (And dancing skills, of course!) 

Beyond the good times, though, what’s motivated Carol? What’s kept getting her out of bed in the morning – even on the days when things are difficult?

“I do it, I think, because you can only die once. So the care you give to someone who is dying has to be special. And it’s not just the patient, but their families – if a patient has a ‘good’ death, and is well cared for, the families will remember. It really helps the families. 

“They remember you, because of the care. For what you did for their loved one.”

During her quarter-century at ellenor, Carol has been behind the curtain – pulling the strings to coordinate crucial palliative care for the hospice’s life-limited patients. And, as her turn as a costumed chameleon at Christmas proved, she’s not shy being in front of the curtain, either.

But, as she prepares for the curtain call of her ellenor career, what will Carol miss most?

“It’s the patients. When I leave, I’ll really miss my colleagues, because they’re my friends; my support network. But I’ll miss the patients, and just being able to do that little bit extra for people. Spending time talking to patients – that’s what I’ll miss.”

We’ll miss Carol, of course – but know she’ll have plenty to keep her busy in the years ahead. On top of dog-sitting, gardening, baking, and spending time with her kids, Carol will also be helping kids at a local primary school with numeracy and literacy. Oh, and we expect to see her around here, too – she’s already promised homemade sausage rolls to staff!

Carol ends the interview with two messages.

“To my colleagues, I say: never give up on caring for those patients. They depend on you so much. So never give up.

“To my patients, you’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I’ll never forget you.”

One suspects Carol’s patients feel the same.