It Takes a Special Kind of Person to Work in a Hospice
This week marks the first anniversary of possibly the most difficult time that I have ever experienced. My younger sister Tracy died on September 7, 2011, after having suffered a severe stroke two weeks before.
Tracy had a living will, so we knew what her wishes concerning treatment would have been if she had been able to communicate. We then made a decision that has had a lasting effect on me, to move Tracy to Hospice of the Western Reserve (www.hospicewr.org) in Cleveland, OH, featured as this week’s Favorite .ORG on the Public Interest Registry home page.
That decision made a hideous situation easier for us, and I would like to think Tracy also. The hospice staff, be it doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, or maintenance workers, were wonderful to Tracy, who, while she could not speak, was aware of her surroundings. They were outstanding in giving her support, meeting her needs, and keeping her comfortable. They also showed us what we could and should do to help.
Attention to us was not limited to what we could do. In a sense, Tracy was not the only patient in the room. The medical staff and social workers were there for us too, answering and at times anticipating our questions, easing our fears, and helping us to prepare for Tracy's death. That support at the hospice continued after we received an unhappy early morning call, and continues through regular grief counseling letters
It takes a special kind of person to work in a hospice. Staff of the Hospice of the Western Reserve showed a commitment and sensitivity that was truly remarkable. I quickly found when telling acquaintances about Tracy's last days that the opinion is shared widely in Northeast Ohio.
I have dwelled on our experience because a situation like it is deeply personal. However, special individuals exist all over, and this post would not be fair if it were limited to a single hospice. While we did not appreciate what she had said fully until last year, a friend of my parents since my childhood once spoke movingly about her experience in Florida when her husband died in a hospice there. Jerry had suffered from dementia, and it was the first time that I became aware that hospice care is not just for cancer patients. A friend in Texas who could not fight cancer any longer wanted to die at home. Outpatient staff from a local hospice were there for Rick and his family. I could list many more examples. In fact, last year, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) reported that roughly 1.6 million patients received services from hospice and that nearly 42% of all deaths in the United States were under the care of a hospice program.
Again, this story is a tale of one family. I hope that our experience provides useful insights to anyone who might face the situation and have to make the decisions that we were confronted with.