A Story of “Life Saving”

I recently received this letter from a family member of one of our patients. I wanted to share it with everyone on our blog because I think it’s such a beautiful story, written from a family member’s perspective, that really encompasses the essence of hospice care.

“The title of this letter may seem like an oxymoron, but hopefully you will understand when you reach the end of this letter. My father passed away July 16, 2012 and the loss still elicits very raw emotions from all that loved and knew him. It’s unfortunate that all too often we find that many people were touched by him after he is gone. I write this letter as a loving daughter and a registered nurse.

In March of this year our family, in consultation with my father’s physician, decided that it was time to make a referral to hospice. My father had fought his battle heroically for over two years with inoperable lung cancer having completed chemotherapy and radiation treatments shortly after his diagnosis in 2009. My father had it in his head that once hospice was called it meant “his time” was near. Nothing was further from the truth. My father lived four months under hospice care. We elected Covenant Hospice as my parents had worked for several years with two of the local funeral homes and had become familiar with many of the staff and hospice chaplains of Covenant. From the beginning, the staff of Covenant took our entire family “under their wings” (probably angel wings.) They not only provided wonderful compassionate care to my father, they helped the entire family to cope with the difficult task of taking care of a terminally ill loved one and the eventual death of a husband of 60 years, father of 6, grandfather of 13, great-grandfather of 10 and friend of many.

As my father began to decline and fail, the nurses would visit more often. They spent many hours with us explaining what to expect, how to control his pain, how to handle the personality changes, the often difficult behaviors, as well as the physical challenges thrust upon us. Hospice ordered all the medications appropriate to his diagnosis and all the equipment well in advance of his needs. The staff anticipated problems that might arise, thus assisting us in being more prepared for the changes that were coming. Hospice not only provided the nurse, but other crucial members of the healthcare team to include: chaplains, social worker and home health aide.

Unfortunately for our family, we found ourselves calling the weekend on-call nurse almost every weekend the last four to six weeks of my father’s life. He incurred falls, blood pressure issues, pain management problems and breathing problems. The on-call system is set up so that you receive a call back within several minutes from a nurse after the initial contact with the call center also staffed by registered nurses. It was a relief to get a quick response from a professional. Sometimes it required a visit or just guidance over the phone. These on-call nurses were wonderful and reassured us that we were doing the right thing or coached us on how to better serve the needs of my father. It was not hard to get so “close” to the nurses and they became part of our family for a few months. My mother particularly came to rely on their guidance and support. Dad had his favorites too! (You know who you are!)

Sadly, Dad passed away on Monday, July 16, but I have no doubt he received the most wonderful, compassionate and dignified palliative care that was available. He used to tell the nurses he had always been the “chief” and they let him continue to be the chief until his final days. He was included in all the decision-making of his care until the end.

The reason I write this is not only to thank the wonderful staff of Covenant Hospice, but make sure the public educates themselves to the benefits of hospice care. As a home health registered nurse for our 20 years, too many times I would see hospice referrals made so late in the disease process that many would never experience the full benefits that hospice care could have provided to the patient and family. Please talk to your families and your physicians when you are diagnosed with a terminal disease and may have only months or weeks to live. There are circumstances when they may be impossible, but often times you have weeks to prepare and hospice can help. Call your local hospice for questions you may have. For those of you with Medicare, hospice care is covered under the hospice benefit. Hospice professionals can answer your questions regarding coverage for your healthcare.

Since my father’s death, my mother has received several correspondences from Covenant Hospice for support and counseling and she has plans to attend some of their support groups. Hospice care continues for family even after death of the loved one.

As I close, I wish to salute Dad’s wonderful nurses, Case Manager, Patricia RN; Ben RN; Frank LPN; home health aide Deidre; on-call registered nurses Barbara, Laura and Marsha; continuous care nurse Johannah LPN; social worker Mary Ann; Chaplain Virgil, and retired Chaplain Floyd. We thank you all and hope this will help those who many have that difficult decision and will feel comfortable making that call to hospice.

God Bless You All and know that you were our family’s “Life Saver” in this difficult time.”

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