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Columnist Nancy Bandman-Boyle: Hospice put her mother’s mind at ease

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I offer another perspective from that of Evelyn Resh in her guest column, “Finds Hospice, like other health care, pruned,” published Oct. 4.

I have found hospice service organizations are different from one another. My first experience with hospice was with my 53-year-old husband, Thomas, who died from kidney cancer in 2006 after being ill for close to three years. My son was 8 at the time and needed parental help to get out the door to school. At the same time, my husband needed personal assistance and a ride in order to continue working. We received very few home health hours, an uninspired nurse and an excellent social worker, outstanding in her effort and care for our entire family.

Fast forward to 2016 and my mom, Elsie, is 95. She has had multiple emergency room visits and hospitalizations within a very short period of time due to acute cardiac episodes. During the last hospital stay, my mom’s trusted cardiologist stated he didn’t have any further medical intervention options. As a retired nursing professor and a World War II Army nurse, my mom realized that the hospital medical model could no longer offer solutions for fixing her conditions.

In June, we interviewed a nurse from the Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst who spoke about the plethora of services they would offer to the entire family. Skeptical of all the promises, Elsie signed up for hospice services “on a trial basis” in late August 2016.

From the very first day, every staff member of the Hospice of the Fisher Home was concerned, hopeful, well-trained, resourceful and effective. Elsie received palliative services for her medical conditions and additional non-medical assistance. She remained at home in her apartment at Applewood with Bertram, her husband of 65 years. Along with coordinating care with the stellar Applewood staff, I was an active daily caregiver with my mom and had a close-up view of hospice services.

Kathleen, the nurse heading the team for Elsie, was a positive, enthusiastic, and engaged interlocutor — responding to my mother’s varied complaints, patiently discussing her medical issues and collaboratively arriving at solutions. After two months, Elsie said that it was one of the best life decisions she had ever made.

A social worker, Deb, and an intern visited every week and were skillful in framing family discussions toward resolved outstanding issues. Each morning, Elsie would receive “the best” shower, shampoo and dressing assistance from the home health aides. Becoming more comfortable with the Fisher Home staff, she expressed concern for some unfinished projects which weighed heavily upon her — her pile of mending untouched, and a garage packed with 50 years worth of active living in need of cleaning out and organizing. As her vision decreased, she wished aloud she hoped to read the daily paper to keep up with the world’s events.

As Elsie turned 96 in September 2016, she relished her participation in hospice services. She was most appreciative of the twice-weekly engaging reading volunteers (Marietta and Amy); the volunteer coordinator (Theresa) sewing and repairing her way through the pesky mending pile (including installing a new elastic waistband in a very well-worn pair of pants); and the kind, non-judgmental, unstinting help from Kurt, another Fisher Home volunteer, reorganizing the packed garage. These checked-off tasks, completed with love and caring, were intended to put my mother’s mind at ease. It worked — in the last few months of her life she said she felt lighter and happier.

As Elsie’s symptoms of heart disease and pulmonary issues progressed, Kathleen would gently promote medical supply interventions, such as a hospital bed, a wheelchair for distances and portable refillable oxygen canisters which assisted her to remain as comfortable, active and engaged as possible. Elsie had the ability to attend her beloved Cinemark opera series and to enjoy dining with friends at Applewood.

And, near the end, Kathleen trained me to orally give Elsie the prefilled medicine doses to keep her from discomfort. She was alert and able to receive visitors and their goodbyes three days before her death.

The Hospice of the Fisher Home staff worked hard for months to guide her through her desired end of life. She was not rushed to die; she was with her family, at home, her mending was done, she was current with the world’s news, her life’s garage was orderly and Elsie was at peace with her place she left in the world.

Nancy Bandman-Boyle, a bookkeeper who lives in Hadley, has had multiple caregiving experiences and is returning to school to study geriatric health service advocacy.