Told he had two weeks to live, B.C. man now enjoying new lease on life

Tim Roxburgh’s unusual experience has given him a unique perspective on end-of-life care in hospice

Tim Roxburgh has had the unique experience of going back home after spending six months at hospice.

When you go to hospice for end-of-life care, it’s not expected that you will leave again. But the Langley man did just that, and he has shared with people what helped to bring him home.

Last January, Roxburgh collapsed and ended up in emergency with a serious case of cirrhosis, a complication of liver disease.

He ended up in Abbotsford Hospital for three weeks and was sent home only to go right back. He was in hospital until May and was deteriorating every day. The environment of a hospital is not a healing setting, said Roxburgh.

“I was told I was about two weeks from dead and they offered me a bed at the Christine Morrison Hospice in Mission. It was available so I took it,” he said.

When he arrived at hospice, he couldn’t do anything, not even get out of bed without the aid of nurses.

“I’m a pretty independent guy and having to get someone to help me for everything wasn’t working for me,” he laughs.

He also had an important goal to reach. He wanted to live long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. With the support of his daughters and the quality care at the hospice, Roxburgh not only walked his daughter down the aisle using a walker, he also walked out of hospice alive, using a cane.

He said the personalized care and supportive atmosphere makes a world of difference for those who are dying and for those who do leave hospice alive.

“After six months there, I guess I graduated,” he joked.

Physicians gave him the all clear to go home.

“The doctors are amazed about my recovery. I am too,” he said.

He has recently met with staff at the Langley Hospice to share some of the ideas he has for the new 15-bed stand-alone hospice planned for Langley.

READ MORE: LANGLEY HOSPICE

Hospice isn’t run by the rules like a hospital, he points out.

“If you want to bring in outside food because you don’t like what’s on the menu one day, they are OK with that. I like to wake up and have a warm cup of soup at night. The nurses accommodated that. They accommodate to the individual’s needs and wants. It takes a special kind of person to be staff and volunteer at hospice.”

While there, Roxburgh implemented Float Fridays, which meant that every Friday, the staff would organize ice cream and pop and offer floats to residents who could have one.

“You’d be amazed how many people have never had a float before,” he said.

Then he created Sunday Suppers once a month.

“All residents, family, friends, staff and volunteers were welcome. We’d sometimes have 40 people there. Not everyone can take part, but everyone is welcome. For those who wanted food, they would have it brought to their room.”

Jane Godfrey, patient care co-ordinator at the Christine Morrison Hospice said Roxburgh left a legacy there.

“Tim arrived with a prognosis that wasn’t good. He had no appetite and couldn’t do anything on his own. But he thrived here and before he left he was putting up Christmas decorations,” said Godfrey.

“We allowed him to be the leader in his own care. We treat the whole person. We are passionate about honoring the patient’s wishes and goals. It’s been an honour to walk that journey with Tim.”

When people go to hospice they are receiving end-of-life care. Godfrey said the focus is about quality living and quality dying.

And at the hospice, they have the most beautiful garden Roxburgh said he has ever seen, adding it was his favourite place — outside enjoying the flowers.

The garden motivated him to become mobile enough that he could visit it anytime he wanted without help. In the summer, he started photographing the flowers.

A bed in Langley opened up about three weeks into Roxburgh’s stay at Christine Morrison, but he turned it down.

“I was really happy in Mission,” he said.

Roxburgh got to know the ‘marvelous’ staff and ‘amazing’ volunteers who he described as a constant form of support.

“The way the staff and volunteers work together. It’s an amazing system,” he said.

Godfrey agrees. She has been there since 2005 and notes that there is little turnover of staff because they are so passionate about their work.

Each room is private, with a TV, telephone and wifi, offering a home-like setting. And unlike a hospital, there aren’t rules.

“If a person really wanted a beer one night, it can be accommodated if the doctor says it’s OK,” he said.

If you aren’t able to get out of your room, volunteers come to you.

“They offer a blanket, to get you a cup of coffee, or just have a chat. Whatever it is you need, they make it happen,” he said.

In his working life, Roxburgh was a bus driver for more than 30 years and loved every day of it.

In fact, he’s hoping to get back on the road.

“My doctor OK’d for me to take my Class 2 driver’s test,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that.”

While some might choose to stay away from hospice after being one of the few people who can leave it alive, Roxburgh has already been back to visit and to attend a Sunday supper.

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