Recently I attended the Kenneth B. Schwartz Compassionate Healthcare Dinner. The event, hosted by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care, recognizes healthcare professionals who exemplify extraordinary devotion and compassion in caring for patients and families. It was a moving event and it got me thinking about the doctors, nurses and volunteers, who have shown my family and me compassion.
Since I have a lot to say about how the healthcare industry as a whole needs to better include and accommodate family caregivers (and it does!), I thought it only fair I also acknowledge what’s good. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to tell you about some of the people who gave my family and me compassionate care, and for whom I am thankful.
Nurse John. My father was in the ER awaiting a transfer to another hospital and he was given a powerful antipsychotic drug that rendered him helpless. I was afraid to leave him so I spent 24 hours by his side, sleeping in a chair next to his gurney. In the morning, after a long and stressful night, a nurse named John walked over to me and asked, “When was the last time you’ve eaten?” Then he handed me a blueberry muffin. His gesture was so thoughtful it made me cry; in fact the memory still makes me cry, more than two years later.
Alex and Dola. When my father was admitted to the hospital, the staff saw an old and feeble man who didn’t know where he was or even who he was. But I told everyone I encountered, “This is not the man I brought to the ER!” I felt like no one was listening to me except for a nurse named Alex. “I heard you,” he told me, and I knew he did. Alex and his coworker Dola recognized that I had a calming effect on my father and so they altered their daily routines so I could be there when they woke my father in the morning and when they gave him his meds each day. And when, after a long day of work and stopping home to see my kids, I would ring the bell to enter the ward close to midnight, they would let me in without saying a word about visiting hours.
Dr. L. Dr. L was the hospitalist who told my mother she had ovarian cancer and supported her decision not to pursue treatment. I only met him twice – the night he gave us the news and the next day when we were preparing to send my mother home. So I was shocked when he took the time to call me a few days later to tell me I had done a good job supporting my mother. That compliment boosted my confidence as I made so many more decisions on behalf of my parents in the following months.
Bev. I didn’t like Bev, the hospice nurse, when I first met her. I thought she was pushy and didn’t listen. She came to assess whether my mother was ready to start hospice and if we wanted to start, but 5 minutes in she was telling me how I would administer morphine throughout the day. She was moving too fast. I asked to speak to her in private and I came right out and told her that I didn’t think I wanted to work with her because I didn’t like her. Bev pulled her chair close to mine, leaned in, and told me she would help me – we were only looking at a few months. Even though she ended up only caring for my mother for a few weeks because we had to transfer my mother to another facility, she was my trusted advisor throughout my mother’s illness. Bev always took my calls – in fact she encouraged me to call her – answered my questions, gave me pep talks, and was one of the first people to call me when my mother passed.
Dr. P. Dr. P wasn’t my mother’s doctor; he was the head of an oncology department. My cousin introduced me to him and he made time for me despite his busy schedule. He showed me my mother’s charts and explained her cancer to me. For some reason I felt compelled to tell him about a non-medical family drama we were dealing with on top of my mother’s Stage 4 terminal prognosis. He reassured me that what we were going through was normal and told me stories that proved his words weren’t hollow. And one night, close to 9 p.m., he appeared in the doorway of my mother’s hospice room. He examined my mother and held her hand and he made us both feel safe and special.
Ginny. Ginny was a volunteer at the hospice home where my mother spent her last three months, and while my mother’s life was ending, Ginny became my lifeline. Suspecting, after a series of false alarms, that my mother did not want to pass in front of her daughters, but knowing those daughters didn’t want to let their mother move on alone, Ginny sent my sister and me out to dinner and sat watch – from the bathroom! – across the hall from my mother. When my mother was close to dying, Ginny called us back in time for our mother’s final breath.
I am thankful for Nurse John, Alex and Dola, Bev, Dr. P., Ginny, and so many others, including the entire staff at the Stanley Tippet Hospice Home, who fed me, hugged me, told me jokes, and cared for my family, during our darkest days. I am thankful for compassionate care.
Have you experienced compassionate care? You can honor that caregiver with a donation in their name to the Schwartz Center. Click here to donate.
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