“The past is gone, the future is not yet here. If we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.” ̶ Thich Nhat Hanh
Before I came to work as a social worker at JourneyCare, I was a volunteer for many years. During that time, I visited with a hospice patient, who I will call Susan. Susan was in her 50s and had ovarian cancer. One day she shared with me that she had been an avid golfer and that she was feeling sad that she would never golf again. I asked her if she would like me to take her to the driving range and she lit up. Her family was pretty nervous about the idea, but Susan said to all of us, “I want to live until I die.”
Yeimy, a beautiful mother of three, lost her hair to chemotherapy. By the time she came to our Pepper Family Hospice CareCenter in Barrington, her hair had started to grow back but was still very short. As a show of support, seven of her family members buzz cut their hair as short as hers, including her 16-year-old daughter Maggy. They did this en masse on a Saturday afternoon at the Barrington CareCenter.
Yeimy's husband was hesitant about having Wendy, their 9-year-old daughter, cut her hair quite that short. Wendy was unhappy about this, but began to search for another inspiration.
My career as a physician has paired me with many facets of medicine. I have explored private family practice, treated patients in nursing homes and even treated infants. Each of these are wonderful and worthy specialties, but I never felt the visceral connection to them that I feel with hospice and palliative care.
This work is a calling. And as JourneyCare celebrates our physicians this month, I celebrate my colleagues who also feel called to serve patients facing serious illness or the end of life.
I joined the JourneyCare Foundation five weeks ago, helping the Foundation raise funds to cover uncompensated care. Because I’m not a clinician and I don’t work in any of our other patient or family facing departments, I quickly realized that in order to be most effective, I needed to find a way to keep patients front and center in my mind and never lose sight of my “why” for being at JourneyCare. I brought in a photo of my Nana who passed away eight years ago after seven years of round-the-clock care by my family. We didn’t know about hospice or palliative care services. I joined JourneyCare because I want to help ensure other families don't go through such a physically and emotionally painful ordeal alone.
In my short time at JourneyCare, I’ve discovered that we go over and above to provide extra care and services that patients and their families don’t even realize they need or want, but which help provide comfort. One of these extras has been particularly impactful on me.
A nurse by trade long retired, I missed that special contact caregivers have with their patients. So when I heard of JourneyCare’s CNA Assist program ̶ to partner closely with certified nursing assistants to care for hospice patients ̶ I signed up immediately. From my very first shadow shift, I knew I had made the right choice.
I have the privilege of comforting patients with my presence, my skills and the assistance of a supportive staff from whom I learn something new every time I volunteer.
As a Marine veteran who served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War, I’m well-aware of the sacrifices our men and women make to serve their country in the armed forces. And as a hospice volunteer who works primarily with veterans, I’m able to express my gratitude to veterans for their service in multiple ways.
Time visiting with a veteran and his or her family ̶ the sharing of stories and experiences ̶ are some of the most precious moments in my life. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fi, meaning always faithful to God, country, and your fellow marine. Well, JourneyCare's volunteer program enables me to carry out that mission not only to other marines but to all veterans.
As a palliative care nurse practitioner, I get an opportunity to meet a variety of patients that are at differing stages of their lives. A new patient, who I’ll call Caroline, recently taught me that we should never ever make up our plan of care before we meet the person.
What I read about Caroline made me think I was about to meet somebody who was dying.
Hospice can be a very scary and ominous word to many people. As a hospice admissions nurse, I see the fear, indecision, vulnerability, confusion and despair firsthand.
Some patients I meet have a newly diagnosed terminal disease, and others suffer from a long-protracted disease that is now in the last stages. More often than not, the patient is ready to stop treatments and focus on pain and symptom management. They want to remain at home in safe, warm and familiar surroundings, rather than the grueling routine of a hospital or skilled nursing facility with endless doctor visit cycles.
My beloved late husband, who died November 11, 2014, was in the care of JourneyCare in our home for the last four days of his life. Coming from Serbia, neither one of us knew much about this health service, except that we were both scared by the word “hospice!” We associated it with the end of life and we were both horrified.
“Please don’t mention the word hospice,” I begged a social worker, who later helped both of us a great deal. “No worries, nobody likes that word,” she told me with a hug like a sister, and sympathy deep in her eyes.
Everyone has heard the words “social work” and “social worker," but do you know what they really mean? When I was growing up, I thought social workers were men and women who wanted to devote their lives working in underprivileged countries helping poor people enrich their lives.
Well, I grew up and learned I wasn’t completely wrong. And after 20 plus years as a social worker, I continue to learn everyday what social work and being a social worker truly mean.
As a hospice social worker I wear many hats. I am a noun, verb, adverb and adjective. I'm a counselor, confidante, advocate, researcher and resource. I'm a cheerleader, motivator, listener, party planner, wedding coordinator and dream maker.
Mainly, I am a humbled and privileged, invited guest into the lives of patients and families who I've been honored to know over the years. Here are a few of them: