When Linda Coffey was just 12 years old, her Dad had his first heart attack. Within six months, he’d had another. He survived, but – as doctors made clear – he wouldn’t survive another one.
Today, Linda is Director of Care at ellenor, with seven years at ellenor – and almost two and a half decades working with patients across Dartford, Gravesham, and Swanley – she understands the unique needs and challenges of the palliative space.
Linda oversees all the clinical services the hospice provides – both from its Gravesend-based inpatient ward, and from the homes of its patients throughout the community. These services range from nursing and medical care to wellbeing – which, in itself, comprises physiotherapy, counselling, family support, spiritual support, and more.
Since around 90% of ellenor’s ‘holistic’ care is in the community, Linda also oversees the hospice’s relationships with local GPs, as well as the area’s hospital and community nursing providers.
That, in brief, is what Linda does. So why does she do it?
“I came into nursing,” Linda says, “to make a difference. I chose to work in the community because I didn’t want to lose contact with patients – to end up in a management role without that day-to-day interaction.
“You really get to know the patients at ellenor, and their families. What we give to patients when they come here – and we’re very fortunate to be able to do this – is time. Given a diagnosis, they need that time to get their head around things.”
With that time comes a lot of opportunities to talk – and to listen. To broach those difficult conversations around death and dying, and help ensure a patient’s wishes are not only communicated clearly to their families, but actioned too.
“Some patients are very well prepared for these talks,” Linda explains, “while some are so far from being able to have these conversations that you have to tread very gently. Everybody’s different; everybody handles bad news differently. You can’t read from a script – you have to think on your feet. But because we have the time, we can do that: listen, hear, and respond in the right way.”
Being able to talk openly about typically taboo topics like death and dying is an invaluable skill. And, for Linda, it’s one that she finds expression for not only in the professional domain – but in the personal one, too.
In February last year, Linda’s beloved Dad – while clearing the snow in the back garden, in sub-zero temperatures, aged 79 – passed away suddenly.
“That was him all over,” Linda smiles, thinking of her Dad’s strength and forthrightness. “He was amazing, yet I’d always lived with the knowledge that he might not be here at any moment. It was a shock when he died. But – I think because of what I see here at the hospice – I’ve always had this openness with my Dad. We didn’t have any secrets.”
Linda’s guidance cultivates a safe and supportive atmosphere: for patients, families, and staff. And, in the wake of her Dad’s death, it was this same environment that helped her through the loss.