Living to tell his tales, Ben wrote a book of his youthful adventures for “my grandchildren who will likely never know the freedom of that kind of childhood.” Woven through the tales, is a fascinating history of his family as his father’s railway work took them through various countries in Africa. It closes with his thirst for travel that led him to England where he worked in a nuclear plant long enough to get the money to indulge his wanderlust, landing him eventually in Canada. Settled in “paradise”, Ben persuaded his family to emigrate to Canada.
Eventually, Ben ended up in Qualicum as a real estate agent and, six years ago, he and his wife, Chris, retired in Port Alberni.
An open and matter-of-fact man, Ben agreed to talk about his experience with the Alberni Hospice Society, its home care program and its Ty Watson House.
“I was diagnosed at 48 with Parkinson’s. While we were RVing through the United States, I wrote my book. Because of the Parkinison’s, typing with one finger meant I often hit the same key several times, creating some big problems for the reader. My wife, Chris, retyped the book for me. I am so glad I wrote it when I did because, about a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with MDS, a form of bone marrow cancer.” Note: With strong evidence based on personal research, Ben suspects his early work in the nuclear plant, where modern protective precautions were non-existent, is implicated in both his Parkinson’s and MDS.
Chris adds: “Ben had scoliosis and on January 5, 2012, he had back surgery in the Vancouver General Hospital. While recovering, he underwent respiratory failure three times. He lost all mobility… he could not walk, talk or eat without tubes. The doctors prepared me for the worst – brain damage and a condition unlikely to improve. I just said, ‘You don’t know Ben!’
In March, 2012, my Miracle Man, as he became known to all his doctors, walked out of the Vancouver General Hospital, talking and fully able to feed himself! He had worked so hard… well beyond anyone’s expectations. Out of hospital one month, he was sent to Victoria for some bone marrow testing. That’s when he was given the diagnosis of MDS. He was given ten months to live. There are no treatments that he could survive so he was basically sent home to die. Ben, shortly thereafter planned his ‘Wake at the Lake’. He wanted to celebrate a blessed life with his friends. However, Ben’s tenacity persisted and as it became evident that Ben had more life to live, the wake was called off.”
“However,” Ben continues, “my illness did progress and when my doctors decided that I needed palliative care, we hooked up with the Alberni Valley Hospice Society and all its services. While I was still living in our home, VIHA medical help was there for me every day. But I also had regular social calls from two dedicated volunteers from the Hospice Society. I could talk to them openly about anything but, mostly, we played a lot of games. The Hospice visits coincided well with Chris’ twice-weekly work schedule… the volunteers became good friends of mine.
As space opened at Ty Watson House, it made sense for me to move in here. That allowed us to sell our house so Chris could move to an apartment.
My experience here in Ty Watson has been wonderful. The staff is very helpful. If I want to talk about death and dying, they are willing and able to talk with me, to answer any questions, or help me with any serious issues that are on my mind. Ruth McDonough and Diane McNeil, the grief counselors, and Les Bonnell, the Hospice chaplain, are all available to either Chris or me any time we need them. They understand when tears need to be shed.
But it’s not all talk about death and dying in here! Most of the time, we carry on like you would in any home. There’s a lot of laughter in this house, especially in this kitchen. When it’s filled with residents, volunteers, staff, family members… and the bantering, story-telling and teasing starts, it can get quite raucous. In those times, which are quite often, it is a house of real joy.
The meals here are out of this world. When I first arrived, I was asked what I liked to eat. I said I loved lamb. Sure enough, not long after, a magnificent rack of lamb meal was laid before us!
The celebrations here are something else. They celebrate everything, always with a big spread that is shared by residents, family, staff and volunteers. Chris and I just celebrated our 28th Wedding Anniversary. The staff and volunteers here went all out to make it very special.
There are many ways to pass the time in here… you can be as alone or as engaged with others as you want. It is really up to you. I find many ways to amuse myself: I read or watch my favourite TV shows in the quiet times but I love to shoot-the-breeze with the staff and volunteers. We also play games regularly – crib, backgammon, checkers - just as I did with the volunteers at our house. The staff and volunteers have become my family.
Chris comes every day, as often as she likes… any time she likes. We also go on regular outings.
Over the Christmas holiday, my daughter, Kate, her spouse, my granddaughter, her partner and my new great grandson are coming from Australia. My daughter, Adrienne, her husband and my two grandsons will come over from Vancouver. We know that this is our last Christmas together but I am ready… it will be very special for all of us.
We’ll celebrate New Year’s with our Hospice family here at the House. Ty Watson House is my home. I will die here. But I love it… I have miraculously been given one more very special Christmas and time to live every day as fully as I can. With the tremendous support I get, I will continue to do so until this adventure is done.”
All the services of the Alberni Hospice Society’s volunteers and staff, including that of the counselors and the chaplain, are available to any palliative care client in the Alberni Valley, whether they are in TWH, their own home, in a care facility or in the hospital. Call us at 250-723-4478 or visit our office at 3088 Third Avenue. Follow us on Facebook!