We still have a home phone but like many other people both smartphones and Bluetooth are conveniences I just can’t imagine living without any longer. Not a day, probably not an hour, goes by that I don’t use my phone to take a call, answer a text, add to my grocery list, search for directions, check email, find an address, update my calendar or, during baseball season, to follow my Washington Nationals. So, while my phone may be used for many things my actual cell number is provided only to people who need it so I try to answer each call as it rings even if it is not a recognized name that shows up on my caller ID.
I was driving with two dear friends on our way to dinner the other night when our casual talk and Christmas music was interfered with an incoming call. I paused briefly not recognizing the number, threw etiquette out of the window and with a flick of my thumb on the steering wheel I answered the call with a cheery hello. I was not prepared to hear the response, “Hello Sandy, this is Annette, a Hospice social worker from Mary Washington Hospital, are you able to talk?” I calmly said no, I will call you back in the morning, and we cordially ended the call, but my mind started wandering. I drove several miles before I said that was unexpected and tried (somewhat ineffectively) to put it out of my mind until the next day.
I have only had limited experience with hospice or palliative care but know another friend whose father is currently near the end of his days. Thinking about them I called Annette back at 8:00 the next morning, but even with a night of thinking about the odd call regarding Hospice care it didn’t make much sense to me. Papa does not have a terminal disease, why would they be calling me. Papa is in a wonderful environment with caring and compassionate staff looking after his every need, what could a Hospice program do for him? I was wrong, it makes perfect sense, but even after the call I really didn’t understand the importance until I had checked in on Papa later that morning and then compared it to Doug’s visit today. I am happy to report Papa was bright and alert for my visit yesterday morning!
My first misconception was thinking that once a person is referred to Hospice they have days or weeks or possibly up to six months to live. Hospice is for the end of a person’s life, and as much as I don’t want to think about it Papa truly is nearing his end of his life. Palliative care is to help improve the quality of care for patient and their family for the time they do have left, even though there is not a number attached to Papa’s time.
Secondly I did not consider Papa’s memory loss or debilitating neuropathy as a terminal prognosis, but in actuality his weight loss and malnutrition are. The nurses and staff at Greenfield caringly help to feed Papa but that does not mean his body is absorbing the nutrients as it should be. Papa’s body is starting to fail him just as his mind is not always working in the present time. Sadly, Papa’s memory was not as sharp today while Doug visited and he had a hard time recalling people and places, even to the point of asking when they brought all of the tables into the dining room he has eaten every meal in for the past year.
Papa is not living in a traditional home environment any longer, how do we fit in the Hospice picture? The misunderstanding that Hospice is solely for patients and their primary caregivers based in their home is also wrong. Hospice concentrates on the comfort of a person and their family, not the cure of a disease, but this care can happen anywhere.
It is a blessing to know Papa will have another team of people looking out for his best interests. Sadly, many people do not receive hospice care until the final days or weeks of their life and miss out on helpful support and quality time with their loved ones. I am thankful that others care about Papa let us know that perhaps the time for is now. Hospice is a community, another resource we can all use to assure that Papa is happy and comfortable on both his good times or more troubled periods for all of the days, months or even years he has left.
This video was taken during Doug’s visit today.