I have been so fortunate to be a social worker and now a field team manager for JourneyCare. The patients and families I meet truly affirm why I was drawn to this work. Some of the most challenging circumstances I have experienced working with family members became some of the most exciting, compelling and educational cases I have ever had the privilege of working on and I consider them “gifts.”
In my five years with JourneyCare, there have been so many moments that stand out and truly touched my heart...moments made possible by care teams working together creatively and pooling resources, all to make a difference, big or small, for patients and families.
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 was earlier this fall that the idea struck me and four of my fellow volunteers. After several years of giving our time at JourneyCare’s Markshak Family Hospice CareCenter in Glenview, so many people had thanked us for our time and effort. But we realized there was no special event for us to thank the dedicated CareCenter staff for their hard work.
I feel so blessed to live during a time when advances in medical care and technology have helped many to live with or live through life-altering conditions, exceeding disease trajectories by not just weeks, but months and even years. But there comes a point in a serious illness when even the most cutting-edge, technical, and specialized medical interventions do not get us where we want to be.
I have worked at Midwest CareCenter for over ten years and have had the privilege of working with many wonderful people and in three different departments.
I first worked in HomeCare Assistants, helping with the scheduling of caregivers, and then transferred to our Home Health division in the Evanston office. I later became a Hospice Administrative Assistant and now work in the Glenview office.
For me, the joy in my role as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) comes from my interaction with our patients. No day is ever the same. I take great pride in my work and do my best to make each patient feel as if they are the only patient I am caring for that day. I have been a CNA for many years and always strive to create special relationships with patients.
I spent more than a decade focused on a career with GE, specializing in customer service and then finance. My business career even briefly took me from Chicago to Baltimore and Philadelphia, managing an entire sales region on the East Coast.
In the early 1990s, my path led me back to Chicago to start a family and to return to school to pursue a degree in education. But shortly after returning to Chicago, my father suffered a heart attack that led doctors to discover he also had cancer. Instantly, I began helping my mother with caregiving duties and my career change to education was officially on hold.
I wished to be a nurse for as long as I can remember.
Even while in high school, I served as a candy striper and nursing assistant. When I graduated early at age 16, I only briefly considered a four-year university, but I didn't want to spend two years earning general education requirements in areas like history or literature. I thought "I'm 16 years old and time's a-fleetin', I want to be a nurse!"
The thing I really like about my job is the opportunity to work in different settings and to meet a variety of people from all different backgrounds. Taking care of people at the end of life gives me a chance to make them feel good, almost like they felt when they were well enough to do things for themselves. Even a simple shave makes a man feel refreshed, better, and more comfortable.
As hospice care providers, we are often caring for people who are in pain or who cannot get comfortable and this is the challenge of this job. We need to consider options to minimize their distress. Some approaches that might work in other settings or for other people cannot always be used, and we need to be resourceful in how we assist these patients. All of us, in whatever discipline, think about this and do our part to help our patients find comfort in small and big ways.
Through my work, I have been especially surprised to meet new people or reconnect with people I've met or cared for in other settings. I find that the world seems increasingly smaller and I am connected with more people than I would have ever known through the care that I have provided. I never know who I might run into again.
It all started thanks to the power of suggestion.
Jeffrey Dodd, an RN at Midwest Care Center's Hospice Suite at Northwest Community Hospital, discovered an article in the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Quarterly, which theorized that 55 word stories could "help clinicians note, reflect, and heal from their daily experiences in caring for seriously ill patients."