counter easy hit All the Roadrunning: The lessons we learn

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The lessons we learn

This past week I was sitting with a patient who has approximately three months to live. I often think what my own reaction would be to that prognosis, but that's another story. A year or so ago, this man was a tall, strong, athletic 80 year old playing golf every day. He now shuffles his feet, can only walk across the room and his rounded shoulders make it hard to believe he really is 6 feet tall. He loves to talk about golf or watch it on television but sadly he has no other interests. He and his wife have a lovely in-law suite in his daughter's house. His daughter has two teenagers so the house is always lively. We have asked him if he would like some videos or books on tape. He politely refused. I asked if he like the History Channel or Animal Planet or game shows. "Not really" he replied. No doubt he is depressed as he spends most of the day just sitting or sleeping. It is painful for his family to watch him this way.

Another gentleman I see each week has the same prognosis, maybe three months. He lives alone in a studio apartment that reminds me of a college dorm room. It has a computer up and running at all times, a ham radio, a flat screen television and books galore. He talks about how full his life is and how wonderful his family is. They visit daily, but most of the day he is alone. He can't walk at all, but does have one of those electric wheelchairs that take him out into the hall, per chance to meet a neighbor. Each week he shows me something on the computer, usually an email from one of his pen pals in Canada or Norway. He gives me the local police and fire updates as they come in. The phrases "not enough hours in the day" or "life is too short" take on a whole new meaning when I leave there.

I'm not sure why I love this kind of work so much. Friends think it strange that I do. Maybe it does have to do with the fact that my dad died at age 36 from cancer. He died in the hospital, not at home with his family. He was on the fourth floor. I remember it was the fourth floor because children were not allowed to visit so my mom would bring us out on the lawn and we could wave up to him. I was only six years old. As I got older I realized that my grieving was not so much for my loss but for his. What was he thinking when looking down at his three daughters and knowing he would never go home again? So, coincidentally, I help terminally ill folks die at home. They all have their own personal journey. I'm just privileged to be a small part of it.


At 1:22 AM, Blogger emmapeelDallas said...

You make a difference, and that is a terrific thing. When my Mom's cancer had metastasized to the point that it was clearly no longer treatable, she decided she wanted to die at home, and thanks to the hospice workers, she was able to do so. I will always be grateful to them, and to anyone who does hospice work, so thank you.


At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so sorry about your mom. I'm glad she had the support she needed. It's never easy though...

At 4:32 PM, Blogger media maven said...

This blog touched me in so many ways.
The descriptions of the two men with a few months to live reminded me so much of my father. He couldn't walk more than a few steps,but read, watched sports,listened to music,talked to everyone he could,was interested in food and cooking and generally tried to make every day enjoyable and every human contact a pleasant experience. He was always thinking about others and what he could do to make them happy or "give them a little lift in the day" Of course since I knew you when your father died and saw the way it affected you and your family the part about looking up at your dad in the hospital made me cry,and since I am a two time cancer survivor myself it all has that much more import.
I may be one of the few friends you have who understand why you like being a hospice nurse. I was the main caretaker for my dad the last five years of his life,and it's an experience I would not want to have missed.The conversations we had,the connection we felt was one of the most satisfying of my life. But in some ways I think your patients are a little luckier. They know when they are going to go and can prepare for it. My dad had no idea if he was going to last 5 months or another five years. He was ready to go but couldn't do anything to make it happen.The Dr. wouldn't call him "terminal" so we couldn't get him into a hospice. Bless you for what you do,the nurses are the real physicians in real life. Love,Susy

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Mark O said...

God bless the Hospice family wherever they are.

At 5:03 AM, Blogger hucklesberries said...

Beautiful. Thank you.


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