My experience is that most people have a story to tell as to why they decided to pursue a career in hospice. My story is generally different than most —I decided to join hospice after my own horrible encounter with one.
Back in May 2003, my husband started experiencing lack of energy. We then went to his physician and had him checked. To our shock, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was said to have only 3 to 6 months left to live. He was just 55 and had been healthy all his life without any serious illnesses. In fact, he had never been hospitalized. The prognosis was a tremendous blow to the family. At that time, I had no medical training or experience. We decided to try chemotherapy as long as he will still have a good quality of life. After a number of sessions, he was lucky to have had only minor side effects from the chemotherapy. Unfortunately, though, it was not enough to stop the cancer from spreading.
When I realized that I could no longer handle all his needs by myself, I contacted a hospice. This turned out to be the beginning of more problems. My husband was on oral pain medication (pills) and there came a time when he could no longer keep them down. I reached out to the hospice and was told via phone that he was still benefitting. I then spoke with my next door neighbor and she suggested Fentanyl patches. When I talked with the hospice, they were not happy that I was getting advice from the neighborhood and then ordered a very strong patch of Fentanyl. It completely knocked out my husband so I needed to call them back and get a reduction in strength.
As his life-long companion and caregiver, I knew what was normal and what was not for my husband. As he became weaker, I called and ordered a wheelchair and commode. None of these were suggested by the hospice team. During the hospice nurse’s last visit, I told her that I think my husband was close to his end. However, I was told that his heart rate was strong and it did not seem like he was close to passing away. 12 hours later, he died. On the same day, I received a call from the hospice saying that a new nurse was assigned to him. My already grieving self shared that he had just passed. To my disbelief, the hospice scolded me for not following a protocol which in the first place, was never explained to me.
It may seem odd that I would end up as a hospice nurse but I am proud to be involved in such an important work. During my entire ordeal, I saw how much I could have used sufficient help and guidance as well as support, if only it were provided. I knew that a properly executed hospice could be a life saver to both the patient and the caregiver. Now working with Transitions Hospice as a QA Manager, I have witnessed what a hospice is intended to be; also the type of hospice which I wish took care of my late husband. Caring, thoughtful, and devoted people assisting patients and their families to live their lives to the fullest…regardless of the time and effort it will entail the hospice team. As they say here, It’s about living.
Written by Suzanne Smith, RN, BSN
Suzanne worked as a school nurse before she joined Transitions Hospice. She started as a volunteer in March 2014 and became a Case Management Nurse the next month, April of the same year. She is currently a Quality Assurance Nurse at the company.