On a recent visit to Journeycare, we stood outside the doorway of a patient and asked the family if he wanted to visit with Mystery, one of our miniature therapy horses.
We were told the patient really loves animals, but that they were uncertain whether he was prepared for it at this time. Encouraged to ask the patient himself, we walked into the room. The man slowly opened up his eyes.
If you knew today would be the last day of your life, how would you live it?
Many might imagine themselves emptying their bank accounts, splurging on an over-the-top dinner and night of frivolity in a last grasp at indulgence. Others possibly envision doing something taboo because they wouldn’t be around to suffer the consequences. Many see themselves scrambling to check off items on their “bucket lists.”
I think these are fantasies. Daydreams. In fact, I believe most of us actually would spend our final 24 hours with just a little bit more of what we already have. A little more love. A little more time spent with friends. A little more family. I don’t think we would change much. We probably would call everyone we cared about and tell them, “I love you.”
Hospice care offers us this closure.
My nursing career was born in intensive care units and emergency trauma rooms, serving patients in fast-paced, critical settings. When dealing with cardiac arrests or other life-and-death emergencies, I felt highly comfortable helping patients in these crucial moments.
So when my nursing focus shifted to hospice and palliative care (first in Northern Virginia), I was also comfortable asking the tough questions.
My mentor, author and RN Maggie Callanan, taught me to use the first two to three hospice visits with our patients to build trust and understand their beliefs, wishes, and needs so that we could best serve them in whatever time they might have.
Maggie stressed the importance of hoping for the best by preparing for the worst and so during the initial visits we intentionally asked: “If you could design your own death, how would you do it?; Where would you want to be and who would you want to be there?; Do you believe in something after death?; What do we need to do to make you feel as comfortable as you can be?”
It doesn't seem possible that I have been with Midwest CareCenter for nearly 10 years. The service area, team members, pharmacies, DME companies and some staff have changed over the years, but one thing has remained constant—our commitment as nursing professionals to stay educated and to provide quality, compassionate care to our patients, families and communities.
This hospice, this wonderful, caring, abiding presence in all our days, humbled me in 1979. It continues to do so, even as I express my gratitude to it as a superb caring entity, which is superbly represented by each and every one, a caregiver, directly and indirectly.
In 1979, Paul Wise, a new patient to me, informed me in his initial visit that he had recently lost his wife. Later, after his physical examination, he asked if I knew the name Cicely Saunders. My first thought was, "His wife has just died and already he wants me to know of his new lady friend." But fortunately a second thought came in, Isn't she an English woman? Something about "Hospice" or some such? Care at home at the end of life?
If you have read my previous posts here at Your Best Day, Today, you know that my experience with Midwest CareCenter has been based on the death of my 48 year-old husband, Tom. He died too young but, as I have said so many times before, the care he received at Midwest CareCenter turned a terrible thing into a comfortable, loving event. But I actually had experience with hospice in a completely different setting when my mother died in 2006.
This won't be easy. This whole thing. This whole my loved one is dying thing. But if you are considering hospice, are working with hospice now, or have worked with hospice in the past, you already know this. When a loved one is dying, everything is hard. Living day to day is hard. Even making it through the day can be an excruciating endeavor. But here's the thing. Although inviting hospice into our lives can't take the pain away, it can make things easier. And really isn't that what we are going for here? A little more ease? A little more grace. A little breathing room?
My name is Marlene and it was about five years ago that Midwest Palliative and Hospice Center was introduced to me. My husband, Tom, had been battling terminal cancer ― a glioblastoma located in his spine ― for a year. Surgery, radiation, physical therapy, hospital stays, blood tests, and numerous cycles of various chemotherapies defined that year but the cancer kept winning. During that year I was fortunate enough to be his full- time caregiver.