When I tell people I retired from hospice, the atmosphere changes around us. Things get quiet, more somber, and they invariably say thank you. But it’s not like that. Hospice is the best place I’ve ever worked. You hear, ‘You have to be a special kind of person to work in hospice.’ And when it comes to those doing patient care, I would have to agree. It’s definitely not for everyone. I’ve seen quality staff members come and go in a matter of months, some of them walking off the job leaving us and their patients high and dry saying, ‘I can’t do this.’ I’ve seen tears of sorrow and frustration as well as the ‘aha’ moments that make it all worthwhile. The ups and downs of this job in this hurricane-prone area are abundant. I will be the first to admit that not all hospices are created equal, but mine set the bar quite high.
The hospice care team consists of a Medical Director, a registered nurse, a social worker, a spiritual advisor, and a CNA. It is an interdisciplinary team, and they are remarkable. These special people go into patients’ homes, with all the dynamics you can imagine, and they go above and beyond. It’s not easy. Sometimes a patient’s family members are in denial. “Don’t tell my husband you’re with hospice.” Sometimes they are demanding and high maintenance. “I need at least six more packs of wipes!” But sometimes the patient is alone.
I worked in the office coordinating care alongside my Manager of Patient Care, a veritable dynamo in her own right. I learned about a level of compassion and empathy I’d not seen before. I was amazed at the number of staff who had lost a child of their own now working in hospice. I became accustomed to the quirky humor that comes out of nowhere adding a macabre levity to the scene. These people are different, but in a way that slowly and permanently endears you to them in a most profound way, and they would do everything in their power to fulfill a patient’s end-of-life dream.
This job can burn anyone out even if you are that special kind of person. And that’s not taking away from anyone who tried it and chose to work elsewhere. I’ve worked with people who have been with hospice 25, 30 years. To me they’re angels on this earth doing God’s work in an atmosphere where sadness and grief can be the tenor of the day. At any time of day or night, any one of the care team will stand a bedside vigil while someone takes their last breath. There may be family members present with questions to be answered. Or there may be no one, with only our hospice team member there with them so they’re not alone at the end. These people will attend funerals, send cards, and check up on the family in the ensuing days.
So many don’t understand the hospice philosophy: “At the center of hospice is the belief that each of us has the right to die pain free, with dignity, and that our families will receive the necessary support to allow us to do so.“
Having hospice doesn’t mean you’re going to die in a week or a month. There are certain criteria to be met before one can even be admitted to hospice care. And you don’t have to be in a hospital or facility. You can be home where you’re most comfortable and the care comes to you. It can go on for many, many months or even years, depending on the case.
If you have a problem, you’re covered. Any issues are covered, and it’s such a relief. It has taken a lot of grief out of our life…Don’t look at hospice as a last-ditch effort; they are there and can help well before the end. ~Larry, Kindred Hospice patient
My manager asked if I would be interested in coming back part-time to help her. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.