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“They want us to wear masks when we see patients—as a precaution,” she said, her brown eyes warming as she pulled open the screen door and stepped inside. It was Kassie, the nurse practitioner, come to evaluate my continued participation in hospice, per the Medicare guidelines. She had called earlier. “I’m glad to meet you, Liz. Alice tells me how well you’re doing—you lead the way.”

Still dizzy from the nebulizer treatment, I took slow deliberate steps supported by my cane toward the dining room table and sat down. Instead of a computer, Kassie withdrew a yellow pad from her case, began questioning my symptoms, then added them to the penciled notes she’d taken from my chart. “Now, let me listen to your lungs—Yes, lots of crackles as I suspected—still yellow when you cough it up?” I nodded, covering my mouth and leaned back in my chair.

“And no change in the measurement of your arm since last time,” she added collapsing the tape measure with slim fingers. “Still 19—from my findings, Liz, you’re still eligible for hospice.” I breathed easier, glad for Alice’s and Eunice’s guidance.

As Kassie prepared to leave, she appeared serene in her blue scrubs, unmoved by the pandemic’s challenges. “Yes, since my husband’s also an essential worker, we’re taking turns homeschooling our nine year old. Our five year old’s still in the hospital’s day care with most of his friends.” Her brown eyes smiled as she spoke, her thick brunette hair swept up into a bun enhancing her loveliness. “And last night, it was such fun making supper in the kitchen. That’s never happened before. I’m sure we’ll do it again.”

Her spirit’s flexibility touched mine.

 

“You’re doing very well, Liz, managing your symptoms—and your vital signs are normal,” says Alice my hospice nurse as she folds up the pressure cuff and puts it away. “You know to call anytime you’ve got questions. We’re here to help.” I sit back in my armchair, noting her cheerfulness, her compassionate eyes, her capable hands. My heart brims with gratitude. Her Wednesday visits the past four months have companioned my efforts to remain conscious of my terminal illness.

And even more heartening is learning that we went to the same high school, Villa Duchesne, and that I was a friend with her aunt and deceased uncle, through Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City, Missouri.

Moreover, knowing that Alice will coach me through the loops of ILD with Rheumatoid Arthritis, my terminal disease, allays my terror. In no way can I prepare for this ordeal.

What I can do, though, is live each day to the fullest: blogging the experiences, exercising, eating well, resting, ADLs, praying, and mediating. Daily CPA meetings and phone calls with my sponsor keep me close to the 12 Steps.

And keeping fresh tulips on my dining room table buoys my spirit. All of this is the work of Precious God. There are no words—I’m grateful.

 

“Hi, Liz, I’m back to check on you again. Sorry about last week—more patients than I could handle.” It was Alice, my regular hospice nurse, tall, willowy, her ivory hands withdrawing her computer from her pink-embossed case as she sat down across from me. From her blue eyes emanated spirit, experience, and commitment to the dying process in my body, one day at a time—another coach to support this new venture into the Unknown.

She smiled as she looked around. “And that wreath on your front door—I had to touch it—flocked with berries, I think—lovely! And other decorations, as well.” Not all of them were given away, including my mother’s angel ornaments crisscrossing the tree in the hallway. Across from us, a white poinsettia hovered over crèche figurines, fired by a potter-friend, years ago.

“My helper Chrissy was here last week. The pine rope and bows across my porch railing—that’s more of her work.” But no seven-foot tree, still boxed in the basement, which had graced my glassed-in screen porch in past years.

Then, Alice asked her usual questions about my medication, appetite, sleep, and bowel functioning, took my vital signs—all were normal, save shortness of breath and weakness and still no pain. “Looks like you’ve no issues with self-care and dressing,” she added.

I nodded, though still dependent upon my clothing stick, my sock aid.

As she recorded her findings into her computer, I asked, “Have you worked with patients with ILD, my diagnosis? What does their end-time look like?”—Questions, until now, I’d been unable to formulate.

She paused in her work and said, “Yes—There’s no pain—only shortness of breath and weakness. And when your symptoms worsen, drugs will keep you comfortable as possible. That’s what we do.” Again, she smiled.

 

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