Of Pills and Pillows

Journey into Hospice Care

Earlier this year, a member of our family who had been ill for the past couple of years took a turn for the worse. Within a couple of weeks, he passed away. The quickness in which it all happened still astounds me. For the longest time he was doing okay – all things considered. And then, it all changed. We were in a hospital following a trip to the emergency room that morning. The ER doctor had mentioned hospice and that is how the transition began.

We had so many questions. Hospice. The very word scared and confused me. I didn’t know anything about hospice. What I thought I knew didn’t produce any warm, fuzzies. Only feelings of fear and sadness. The word conjured up visions of rooms in a facility where people go to die. In my mind, it was worse than a nursing home; one step away from the morgue. And who would pay for this? Would all assets have to be drained to get this care? There were so many questions for my sister and her husband, and at such a vulnerable time.

The hospital set up an appointment with a Palliative Care Specialist. A Palliative Care Specialist is someone who is trained to help patients suffering from extreme pain and stress caused by illnesses and other medical conditions, whether they are terminal or not. They also assist the patients and families in understanding treatment options and resources available to them. When you are in stress from watching a loved one suffer, you need someone beside you, helping you navigate the many paths. This is the Palliative Care Specialist.

My sister and her husband asked me to sit in on the appointment to offer another set of eyes and ears, not trusting themselves to ask all the tough questions or hear all the needed information. It was an honor to be present on this journey with them, but it was also an incredible learning experience. We went to the appointment not knowing what to expect.

The Palliative Care Specialist in our case was a doctor. She came in and introduced herself, focusing most of her attention on her patient. From the moment her hands made contact with him, they never left him. That so impressed and moved me. She so carefully and lovingly examined him. Moving from one area of his body to another, asking questions and gathering information, yet never removing her gentle touch. Her mere presence was comforting to him, but also to us. She confirmed what we all knew, but had not wanted to accept. The time had come that he could no longer be cared for in his home. This gentleman needed to be kept comfortable with the help of 24 hour medical care.

Later that day we toured Circle of Life Hospice. It felt like a big, family home. Eight suites total. The rooms were spacious, welcoming. There is a large common area with comfortable furniture, books, and musical instruments for playing. Something beautiful called a Reverie Harp that even the most non-musical person in the world could strum and enjoy. Being here, it felt like the right thing to do. The administrator walked my sister through all the financials and explained how Medicare coverage would work.

Within the next 24 hours, the move was made from hospital to hospice house. It saddened all of us to think that this gentleman would never again be in the home where he had lived for 40 years with his wife, who had passed two years before. Where they had raised their only child and enjoyed such a love-filled life. But the staff at hospice didn’t focus on that. They focused on getting our gentleman settled in and comfortable. They focused on answering questions that my sister and her husband had and helped them understand some of the changes that they were seeing. They provided meals and a meeting place for family and friends to visit and offer support to patient and family. And when certain people overstayed their welcome, and I think we all know those people, it was the hospice staff who stepped in to set and enforce boundaries for the family.

Those last days went by so fast. At one point our gentleman laughed as he told me that he hesitated to hit the call button because the minute he did someone instantly appeared with another pill or pillow. But he was comfortable. To the staff at Circle of Life, this wasn’t simply a job. You could see the love in their eyes; hear the concern in their voice. As the end neared, one of the staff who had grown particularly fond of our gentleman would come in on her days off to feed him because he would only eat for her. You see, she was the cook and even at death’s door, our gentleman would never offend her by not eating what she had prepared for him. He was a beautiful soul and as he passed from this world, it was wonderful that he was surrounded by loving caregivers who not only eased his transition but who guided and comforted his family.


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