Merlin’s Magic…a Purrfect Dream

Dreams Project HammondCare Foundation Deise Merlin cat hospital palliative care fullDeise’s aggressive neck and facial cancer robbed her of the joy of speaking and eating as well as her ability to work. Deise was a Brazilian immigrant, a highly accomplished English language teacher, fluent in multiple languages, and the Principal of an organisation promoting English language and culture in non-English speaking nations.

For this strong, determined, intelligent, self-sufficient 66-year-old woman, her loss of life’s pleasures and dignity was devastating and overwhelming, and she began to withdraw. 

Deise’s parents were both dead, she had no children of her own and no immediate family in Australia. Admitted to Greenwich palliative care ward for end-of-life care, she was socially isolated and very much alone.

When hospital staff initially talked with Deise and asked if they could help fulfil a ‘dream’ for her, Deise declined. Her social worker Sheila, who could also converse with Deise in Portuguese, eventually unlocked a gem: to feel the unconditional love of a cat Deise said was "precious". 

Deise explained that spending time with cats took her back to happy times raising Mia, an abandoned kitten she found in a grocery store in Rio de Janeiro. Mia had black-and-white markings, like a tuxedo.

Thanks to The Dreams Project, Sheila was able to arrange visits from two cats, Merlin and Teddy, facilitated through Velma’s Pets as Therapy. It was Merlin who would work his magic and help brighten Deise’s world once again.   

From the moment Merlin with his big blue eyes arrived, he touched her heart in an instant. The connection was immediate. But, even before Merlin arrived a little bit of magic had already started to happen!

While arrangements for Deise’s ‘dream’ were underway, Sheila said that she had a surprise for her. Feigning disinterest, they played ‘cat and mouse’, with neither Deise wanting to know nor Sheila wanting to tell. 

“Will I tell you?”

“No! ... What is it?”

“Do you want to know?”

“No!”

For the next two weeks, the sense of hope and expectation created a wonderful feeling of enthusiasm in Deise and across the ward. Great excitement was building and spirits were lifted.

When Merlin – a fluffy, ragdoll cat arrived – the impact was astounding.

Palliative patient holding ragdoll cat MerlinDeise told staff she had come to Greenwich to die but the cats helped her to relax and gave her something to look forward to.

“The cats have been amazing."

The unconditional love that Merlin showed Deise brought about such a transformational change that her will to live changed dramatically. 

“For someone who has always lived reliant on my brain, I can now live with my heart again. Merlin gave me hope and the will to live.”  

Deise’s ‘dream’ had a personally profound impact on her and an equally uplifting effect on the teams providing her care.

The relief the staff felt at seeing their patient feeling so much better, from both an emotional and psychosocial perspective, was immeasurable – the huge impact that The Dreams Project also has on staff wellbeing can never be underestimated.

“The anticipation and excitement that surrounded all of Merlin’s visits and the sheer delight this gave Deise brought great warmth to the ward,” Sheila said. “To be uplifted by witnessing Deise’s renewed sense of wellbeing, her joy in anticipating Merlin’s visits and the way she talked about him between visits was truly wonderful.

“Staff enjoyed pinning up new photos of Merlin – thanks to extra-special efforts by his owner Danielle – which helped stimulate positive engagement and create great joy for Deise. She would gush over Merlin and for an hour and a half every 10 days be thoroughly immersed in the enormous joy his undivided love and attention provided.”

Danielle continued to ensure Merlin had regular visits with Deise, and the improvements in her mental health and wellbeing were astonishing. As a direct result of this modest but inspiring ‘dream’, Deise broke the record of the longest palliative stay at Greenwich. After 13 weeks, with her health significantly improved, Deise was able to return to her residential care home where Merlin continued to visit; providing unconditional love for several more months.

Deise’s re-energised spirit until her death is a wonderful example of the unintended consequences that can result from a simple act of kindness, made possible through The Dreams Project. 

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