Adding a splash of colour and comfort to the hospital rooms of patients in palliative care across Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) is a passion project of Westmead Hospital clinical nurse consultant Felicia Michael and her fellow district palliative care colleagues.
Since 2016, Palliative Care volunteers and staff have been hand-knitting colourful blankets for patients at the Mt Druitt Palliative Care Unit in the hope of adding a non-clinical approach to the dying process.
“The blankets add colour and a personal touch to the patient rooms,” explained Felicia.
When family members see the blankets on the patient’s bed, they know their loved-one is being cared for; and once the patient is no longer with us, the blankets get given to the patient’s family as a loving memory.”
When Felicia, who is approaching her thirtieth year as a palliative care nurse, learnt of this practice at Mt Druitt, she was eager to bring it over to Westmead Hospital as well.
“The Mt Druitt Palliative Care volunteers are very generous and make many blankets, so we now have enough blankets for patients in palliative care on both sites,” said Felicia.
It’s not just the volunteers however who are involved, staff like clinical nurse consultant Nicki Taylor are also eagerly knitting away. So far, Nicki has donated 10 blankets.
“They’re quick and easy to make and if I did it in one go it would take about three hours. I just do it whilst I’m watching TV or something,” explained Nicki.
“My signature style is a round blanket, that I often make from my old ends of wool, but people knit all different styles and shapes.”
Other community groups such as Hills Community Aid in Baulkham Hills have also donated blankets to Westmead as their ‘local’ hospital.
Some research has shown that when a person’s eyes connect with colour, the brain releases chemicals that can impact mood levels and emotion.
“I think the blankets add ‘light’ to the dying process,” said Felicia.
“Dying doesn’t have to be grey, dark and sad – the colour shifts the mood and makes it a little more OK I think.”
When it comes to which blanket goes to which patient, both Nicki and Felicia agree that it comes down to “intuition”.
“We are responsible for picking the blankets for the patients, but we do seem to have a feel for these things,” said Nicki.
“Felicia often goes through the bag and goes, “oooh I think this one will be nice for them”, and then this is met with the patient in turn saying “oh – that’s my favourite colour”.
“Most of us who work here have been doing this for a long time, so everything we do is about trying to make things better and improve the patient experience however we can.”