Thursday, November 19, 2009

If there are angels

I am convinced they walk this earth in the shape of hospice nurses. I was familiar with hospice when my grandparents were ill and passed away, but my own, brief experience with a hospice nurse changed my life.

On Monday March 16th I got the news that there was not much my husband's doctor could do. That's pretty much all he said. Rick's blood was not capable of staying stable, his counts were low and tranfusions were seemingly wasted on him. The cancer was spread throughout his body far wider that we had believed, and time was short. "Ive called Forbes Hospice, theyll be there in the morning to help you.", his doctor said.

The last night of Rick's life was a sleepless one. I have never recounted the details because the changes in Rick and the struggles we went through in that one night are not images I necessarily want to leave anyone with. I knew that the nurse would be at our house in the morning, and I think in some weird way, Rick did too. He died about half an hour before she arrived.

I had called the hospice folks that morning, to see what time they would be coming. I had no idea Id be calling them back so soon to say there'd be a "change in plans". The woman on the end of my frantic, second phone call was so calm. She would call the nurse who was on her way to our house, and let her know Rick had passed. She said then that she would call me back, and stay on the line until our nurse, Jan, arrived. She did exactly as she promised- she called me back just a couple of minutes later and talked to me about Rick. She let me cry or curse or talk about my husband. I held his hand in my right hand, and my phone in the left.

When Jan arrived, she double parked in the street and walked right into my house. She introduced herself, hugged me, and checked Rick for vitals. She pronounced him and quickly wrote down the time of death. We talked for a couple of minutes, she made sure I was ok, then she went to move her car out of the street. When she came back we talked some more, and then she suggested we clean him up. We filled my best bowl, a wedding gift, with warm water, got a washcloth, and went back to the living room. She asked if I wanted to wash his face, and allowed me to do as much or as little as I felt ok doing. I remember being amazed at how well she was able to gauge my comfort level with everything. She was so respectful of him, and treated him with so much kindness. It made me feel as though we were simply taking care of my husband, not handling his empty shell of a body.

As we moved through the next series of tasks we talked about each step, and she empowered me to proceed at my own pace. I was nervous, I didnt know what "the rules" were. I didnt know how long I could keep him at home, how to tell his parents, when to call the funeral home. She assured me that I would know when it was the right time to do each thing, and she supported me in my decisions. She was kind and gentle and in no way patronizing. She stayed with me as long as I needed her there, she helped me make the calls and get through each tough task. She reminded me that each decision I made would be the right one, that I shouldnt doubt myself or my ability to get through it. When she left, I felt as calm and comfortable as I imagine I could have, all things considered.

I know that our hospice nurse was simply doing her job, but I cant imagine its an easy one. I really feel it takes a special sort of person to make hospice care their life's work. And I certainly feel a great deal of gratitude to both of the women at Forbes Hospice who helped me through what was easily the hardest day of my life.

For more information about hospice care, please visit any of the following sites:

-Forbes Hospice, Pittsburgh
-Hope Hospice, Pittsburgh
-National Association for Home Care & Hospice
- Caring Connections, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization


  1. thank you sharing this, you had already told me most of it, but seeing it written down all in one place is very powerful. I love you!!!

  2. Charissa -

    Thank you for sharing your story! Our hospice story wasn't so nice, until the very last day, that is. I'll spare you the negative details, but suffice it to say, the woman who was there with us when Jason died was absolutely amazing. Like you said of your nurse, ours was so calming, nurturing, caring, and genuinely concerned for our (his parents and my) well being. Barbara (the nurse) will always have a special place in my heart because of the work she did that day.

    You're takes a special sort of person to do that job, and THANK G-D for that.

  3. i love you!!!!! youre such a great big sister and such an amazing person