Our clinical team cared for a wonderful hospice patient in McHenry County who lived in a little wooden cabin house, directly on the lakefront. Every person on our team said it was a dream house, directly on the water with a sandy beach and a fire pit right outside the front door.
The only thing was, Gabe was dying and alone inside this home. He no longer could even walk down the steep lawn to the lake anymore, not without assistance.
“What are your goals?” This is a question we ask all patients who are in our care. What can we do for them? What do they want to achieve? For our patient Fanny, her goal seemed impossible. But at JourneyCare, we never turn a patient away and we always strive to find a way to make their goals happen - even if it takes some creative thinking.
I began my odyssey with JourneyCare some eight months ago, after my fifth experience with hospice for family members. Having recently retired and looking to give back – but uncertain if volunteering at hospice was right for me – I discovered the We Honor Veterans program and found a perfect fit.
Our family's JourneyCare experience was exceptional. We discovered services beyond skilled nursing care, such as art, music, massage and Reiki therapies, pet care, patient visitation and, of course, We Honor Veterans. Many of these integrated services are provided by a host of passionate volunteers.
The We Honor Veterans program recognizes current and former military members for their service and assists them in accessing benefits they are entitled to receive. JourneyCare is one of the only nonprofit hospices in the Chicago area that is recognized by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) as a partner in the We Honor Veterans program. JourneyCare also sponsors a Veteran Volunteers Advisory Council that engages veteran-centric event planning, training, and educational opportunities.
My dog Sydney and I have been a pet therapy team with Journey Care for the last two years. When people think of therapy dogs most picture a little pup who will come lay quietly in their lap or on their bed. But when we arrive we can see the surprise in their eyes; Sydney is 80 pounds of labradoodle. Her size makes it easy for patients to reach her from their chair or bed. And people have shared that having a big dog lean on you is like getting a wonderful furry hug.
On Sunday, April 29, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Mitzvah Day program at Congregation Beth Tikvah in Hoffman Estates, one of more than 400 communities served by JourneyCare. A Mitzvah Day is a day in Jewish communities when congregation members come together to perform a wide variety of deeds that benefit their community. Many congregations in our service area have these annual programs.
The focus of this particular Mitzvah Day was inspired by a Jewish Care Services patient we cared for last year in our Marshak Family Hospice CareCenter in Glenview.
I'm a hospice volunteer who offers companionship and support to patients, but I felt anxious about visiting a hospice patient with memory loss. Would I make a connection that could provide comfort? Donna became my first teacher.
Donna, not her real name, was in her 70s, living in a nursing home, with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. She appeared short with a slight frame. She sat in a reclining chair in the television room, which was sparsely decorated. She had pads on her hands to keep from scratching her skin.
Just over two years ago, a young mother arrived at our Barrington CareCenter to receive end-of-life care. One of her final wishes was to create some memories with her young daughter during her very limited time left.
One request was to have a final “spa day” together. After contacting multiple local salons to assist with this very special request, Spa Bleu quickly returned the call to say they would love to offer their services for no charge and make her wish a reality. This began our amazing partnership with Spa Bleu.
Advance Care Planning was the focus of JourneyCare’s Life is a Journey education event that took place on April 17. This cause was a passion of mine even before I headed out on my first 'Ride for 3 Reasons' in 2001. After I completed three solo cross-country bike rides, I passed the torch to my fellow Barrington resident 17-year-old Jan Gierlach last year. The trip we had in common took us more than 3,200 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida to raise awareness and funds to benefit three causes dear to our hearts. One of these is hospice. Part of the proceeds has benefitted JourneyCare and is helping to fund the very special 'Life is a Journey' event this month.
I am often mindful of the quote by Albert Einstein, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” I feel that there is a driving force inside of me to help others, to relieve suffering, not as a noble endeavor to call attention to myself, but because I have been given so much. I want to use my talents and opportunities to help relieve the burdens of others. This is what I strive to do.
What is a memorable patient story for me? My husband’s dear friend of many years was diagnosed with a rapidly progressing form of ALS at age 62. He and his wife were part of a group of friends who had stayed in touch for many years, through many changes. His daughters were my children’s babysitters.
This is my 29th year as a hospice social worker, and my 26th year with JourneyCare and its legacy hospices. I wish I had a dime for everyone who has ever said to me, “Gee, your work must be so depressing …” I would have a truckload of money and I might have retired by now! But I think it’s better this way: I love what I do, I have never found it depressing and I’m in no hurry to retire from it.
Being a hospice social worker demands a very full toolkit of both clinical and non-clinical skills. Sometimes people have misconceptions about what a social worker is and does, so when I walk into a patient’s home for the first time, I am very conscious of the need to quickly establish a rapport so I can explain my role on the team and patients and their families begin to share freely with me.