The Joy of Living as Shared by a Hospice Patient

 

April 10, 2012—Another Hospice volunteer and I sit at the bedside of an animated, talkative 97-year-old African American woman whom I’ll call “Louise.” Her thin face is haloed with a white cotton turban, and her eyes sparkle with good humor. She tells us that she fell in her home and broke a hip, the first broken bone in her long life and her first time having to go to a hospital. She was able to reach the phone to call for help, and she waited quietly lying on the floor until her sister arrived.

 

While the doctors were examining her, they found that Louise had metastasized cancer. Today she reminisces about picking cotton and corn as a child on her family’s riverside farm in the small town of Edna, Texas. Louise never married, but after finishing elementary school, she worked as a housekeeper for a couple who moved north to Chicago. When the husband died, she followed the ailing wife to a retirement community in Florida and cared for her until her death. Nineteen years ago, Louise moved back to Texas to be near her extended family. She lists the names of her siblings and nieces and nephews, and gives us their birth dates. When I asked the date of her own birthday, she boasts, “I’ll turn 98 on April 21.” She says, “People tell me that I have lots of stories to tell.” Joan and I assure her that she surely does. Louise still has a group of friends whom she wants to notify about where she is. Some are in nursing homes, and they still manage to stay in touch.

 

April 17, 2012—Louise is delighted to see me again and asks me to switch off the TV that the nurses have left on for her entertainment. She’d much rather chat and regale me with the same stories she told me the week before.  She is excited about her upcoming 98th birthday party on April 21 and tells me she always hoped she’d live to be 100. When the preacher from her neighborhood Baptist church arrives to pray with her, she treats him with deep respect. I leave them to their prayers and encounter Anne, the social worker in the hallway. She says that Louise is too healthy to stay at the inpatient unit of Hospice, and that paperwork is in motion to have her transferred to another facility.

 

April 24, 2012—I notice a bunch of shiny balloons still inflated on the ceiling in one corner of the room. Louise tells me about her cousins, nieces, nephews and step-sister escorting her in a wheel chair to celebrate her birthday in the courtyard with soup and ice cream and other soft foods “that I can eat with my dentures.” I hear all about the music and presents and laughter, and suddenly Louise is quiet. We both realize that the party’s over and that unless a miracle occurs it’s the last birthday she will celebrate.

 

I ask if she’d like me to read her some psalms. Louise responds, “Whatever you do for me, honey, I accept gratefully.” But before I reach for her Bible, she recites aloud by memory part of Psalm #23 and the entire Lord’s Prayer.  She confides, “I say those words every morning as soon as I’m awake and repeat them at bedtime, when I send prayers to any loved ones who are especially needy.” Louise reminisces about singing spirituals in her Baptist-Methodist farmland church. I sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho and Amazing Grace with her, and she chimes in, with a grin on her emaciated face. Afterwards, Louise admits, “I can’t sing worth a darn, but if someone else is singing, I can’t help but join in. I don’t understand the words to modern songs, but those spirituals bring me right back to my childhood.” Just as I’m leaving the room, a hospice volunteer named Loretta visits with her 4-pound “therapy dog,” Gigi—small and gentle enough to cuddle up next to Louise, who claims to be frightened of big dogs.

 

May 1, 2012—I arrive with my guitar to accompany our spirituals, eager to see Louise, and I’m stunned by her transformation. She is asleep in her bed, without all the pillows that usually prop up her back. Her body looks tiny, and now that her mouth is free of dentures, her face is shrunken. She is breathing so lightly that her chest barely moves. I decide to sing quietly at her bedside. She makes no response, and I hope that the familiar melodies are reaching her on a subconscious level. I realize that once her 98th birthday party has come and gone, and everyone she loves has shown up to honor her, Louise is ready to let go of life. She is tired and doesn’t want to be transferred to a long-term care facility. Silently bidding her farewell, I slip out of the room. I know that it’s likely that this is my last view of her. Louise has given me the gift of her joie de vivre, and I feel grateful to her.

–Houston Hospice volunteer, Ginger Clarkson

Volunteerplayingguitarandsingingtopatient

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Lessons from a Butterfly Family: Parenting a Dying Child


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Thuy Hanh Trinh, MD Earns Fellow Status from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine

Hanh Trinh Photo white background 11-2013

Thuy Hanh Thi Trinh, MD, MBA, FAAFP, WCC, of Houston, TX, recently earned the designation Fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. The Academy is the professional organization for physicians who care for patients with serious illness.  Advancement to fellowship status within the academy honors dedication to and scholarship in the field of the hospice and palliative medicine. This distinction represents a minimum of 5 years of membership, participation in AAHPM activities, letters of recommendation, and board certification in hospice and palliative medicine.

 

Dr. Trinh is Associate Medical Director at Houston Hospice in Houston, Texas. She received her medical degree from Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans and trained in family medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.  Following residency, she completed her geriatric fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine and her palliative medicine fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She joined Houston Hospice in 2007 and serves as the Education Liaison.

She will receive the designation during the Annual Assembly of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association in San Diego, California on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s membership includes more than 4,900 physicians and other healthcare professional committed to improving the care of patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. Since 1988, AAHPM has supported hospice and palliative medicine through advancement of clinical practice standards, fostering research, providing education, and through public policy advocacy.

To learn more about Houston Hospice please visit www.houstonhospice.org.

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Expansion of the Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center Becomes Reality

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Ribbon Cutting in Spring 2014

The expansion of the Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center became a reality in 2013 with the build out of the third floor. The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the end of April and construction on the third floor began in May. Forney Construction, the primary contractor of the project, completed the job in October. Patients began occupying the third floor at the end of October. Thanks to the philanthropic community and the employee’s response to the capital campaign who made filling this need possible.

Renovations for the first and second floors are expected to be completed by Spring 2014. This completion along with the third floor build out will provide an additional
12 patient rooms at the Texas Medical Center facility. This allows Houston Hospice to be more effective in serving patients and families. 

To find out more about the Houston Hospice capital campaign please visit www.houstonhospice.org.

 

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Houston Hospice Capital Campaign Video: Dianne Gilbert, RN, PCM

 

Construction is well under way on the Houston Hospice Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center, but we still need your support. Twelve patient rooms are being added to our third floor to allow us to provide inpatient hospice care for additional patients. In the clip above, Mark Howard, Houston Hospice Financial Development Committee Member, interviews Dianne Gilbert, RN, PCM about why she thinks the additional inpatient space is needed. Dianne interfaces with patients every day and knows firsthand the impact the additional rooms will make. Gilbert said, “At 3 in the morning when I get a phone call that there is someone at the end of their life or there is someone in great pain . . . we need to be able to bring those patients in so that we can help them control their pain or provide them comfort in their final days.” Gilbert sees between 40-60 patients weekly.

For additional information about the capital campaign please visit www.houstonhospice.org.

 

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National Hospice Month: Kathy Flinn and Tiffany Livanec

Kathy Flinn and Tiffany Livanec

Featured for National Hospice Month for the week of November 26 are Tiffany Livanec and Kathy Flinn. Tiffany is a Professional Relations Liaison and has been working at Houston Hospice El Campo office for five years. Kathy Flinn is the RN, PCM-IPU and has been working with Houston Hospice at the Texas Medical Center location for the past 14 years.

(Tiffany) What do you love most about working at Houston Hospice?
I love educating the community about hospice and knowing that many will have a much greater quality of life due to our efforts. 

 

(T) What draws you to your position?
My grandmother was on our services several years ago. The GIFT of hospice to our family is so dear to my heart that I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work for such an amazing organization.

(T) What have you gained from working at Houston Hospice?
I have gained a greater appreciation for life, even less fear of death, and an increased faith!

(T) If you hadn’t become a Professional Relations Liaison, what might you have become?
If I weren’t called to be a liaison, I would like to be a chaplain.

(Kathy) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community? 
Meeting the dedicated people who do this work because they perceive it as a”calling”… not just a job.

(K) What impact has hospice had on your life?
It reminds me that this life is temporary. It’s the next life that is really important.

(K) If you hadn’t become a nurse, what might you have done?
A travel journalist.

(K) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
Jane Sidwell.  She was PCM of the Inpatient Unit in 1996 when I oriented to my role as on-call nurse. I spent a 3-week rotation in the PCC (Patient Care Center) as it was called back then. Jane is the epitome of what I perceive to be an effective manager.

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National Hospice Month: Robynette Hall & Elizabeth Erwin

Robynette Hall & Elizabeth Erwin

 

Elizabeth Erwin & Robynette Hall share their hospice experiences for National Hospice Month. Robynette Hall has worked with Houston Hospice for the past five years as an RN for the On-call Team and works throughout the city.  Elizabeth Erwin, Senior Accountant has worked at Houston Hospice in the Texas Medical Center for the past 15 years.

 

 

(Elizabeth) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community?
There are some who don’t know what hospice is all about and then there are others who look at me with admiration when they hear I work at Hospice.

(E) What draws you to your position?
I love Accounting!

(E) What have you gained from working at Houston Hospice?
Respect for what the nurses and doctors do on a daily basis. And let’s not forget the Finance staff who book and report the results of their work!

(E) If you hadn’t become a Senior Accountant, what might you have done?
Forest Ranger – I love nature – the backyard outside my window helps with the forestry side of my accounting!

(Robynette) What do you love most about working at Houston Hospice? 
I love the Team work and how much everyone truly cares for the patients and their families.  I also like how many Disciplines are involved taking care of our patients and their families.  It takes an army to care for them.

(R) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community? 
This is where I belong, working Hospice and how rewarding it is to be able to help the patients and their families.  I feel truly blessed.

(R) What impact has hospice had on your life?  
The company is terrific and growing, the Team work has been the best I have ever witnessed and I feel everyone really cares about each other.  Knowing how much impact you have on the patients and families is a great reward unto itself.  As well as being able to work for one of the only nonprofit hospices in the Houston area.

(R) If you hadn’t become an RN, what might you have done? 
This is my third career and my second career move as a nurse.  I think I am hooked as a hospice nurse however.

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National Hospice Month: Sharon Hempler and Sonja Payne

Sharon Hempler and Sonja Payne

 Houston Hospice employees Sharon Hempler and Sonja Payne talk about their experiences at Houston Hospice for National Hospice Month. Sharon has been an RN-PCM on the Blue Team in the West Office for the past five years. Sonja Payne, Receptionist, at the Texas Medical Center location has been working with Houston Hospice for 20 years.

(Sharon) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community?
Inspite of the difficulty of our work, we support & uplift each other.

(Sh) What impact has hospice had on your life?
Not only was I able to assist patients and families, but Houston Hospice supported me through my husband’s death.

(Sh) If you hadn’t become an RN-PCM, what might you have done?
If I hadn’t become a PCM, I would still be out seeing patients and families.

(Sh) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
Cheryl Holbert was my PCM and set a high standard for me to follow. She is knowledgeable and was a good mentor and teacher. Ruth Landauer was a friend of a friend who recommended Houston Hospice to me. She is a calming influence and supportive of staff and our clients.

(Sonja) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community?
What has been a pleasant discovery for me is the spiritual bindings that hold me to Houston Hospice.  No matter how I look at my position here, I can always find myself spiritually connected to the organization. 

(So) What impact has hospice had on your life?
The impact hospice has had on my life is tremendous.  I am grateful for all the years and experience that I have endured here.  I don’t take hospice or the people here for granted. I am aware of other people’s feelings and believe everyone here at Houston Hospice is on a journey. 

(So) What have you gained from working at Houston Hospice?
Compassion and patience are two things I did not necessarily exude before coming to work here.  I knew about compassion and I had heard about patience. However, had I not come to work here I would probably not have gained either.  It prepared me for the grief I suffered in losing my brother and helped me support my family during our losses. Many of my friends and family say that I have two lives; one before hospice and the one I have now, after hospice.

(So) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
The person who influenced me the most at Houston Hospice would be Ruth Landauer, Director of Volunteers.  I learned from Ruth’s warmth and dedication from the very beginning.  She embraced me very delicately and made me feel ‘right at home’ on my very first day at hospice.

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National Hospice Month Insight from Nora Heflin and Jodie Gonzalez

Nora Heflin and Jodie Gonzalez

 

For National Hospice Month, Houston Hospice employees shared insight into compassionate, end-of-life care. Featured for the week of November 5 are Jodie Gonzalez and Nora Heflin. Jodie is a social worker on the Blue Team, which is based out of the West Office and has been working with Houston Hospice for one year. Nora Heflin has been a Certified Patient Care Aide for the past four years and is working at the Texas Medical Center location.

 

(Jodie) What do you love most about working at Houston Hospice?
My co-workers! Everyone on my team gives 100% to every patient/family and truly believes in the work we do.

(J) What draws you to your position?
The ability to walk alongside families during the most difficult time in their lives.

(J) If you hadn’t become a social worker, what might you have done?
A champion flamenco dancer…of course!

(J) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross did amazing work with terminally ill patients and really opened the world’s eyes to the needs of dying patients and discussions of death/dying. As long as professionals understand that there are no “5 stages of grief,” her work is still inspirational to those of us trying to increase our culture’s comfort level with death.

(Nora) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community?
I discovered that we all face pain in life; it’s what you do with it.

(N) What impact has hospice had on your life?
Hospice has had a great impact on my life, losing my sister to cancer in 2010. I trusted my loved one to the care of Houston Hospice.

(N) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
Dr. Trinh, She taught me even in the worst of times, there is always another way to look at the situation. Even under tremendous amount of stress she still can manage to find some good in every situation.

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Houston Hospice: National Hospice Month

National Hospice Month is upon us. Every Monday through the month of November Houston Hospice will be highlighting employee experiences and delving into the human aspect of hospice care. The 2012 National Hospice and Palliative Care theme is Comfort·Love·Respect – something we see daily at Houston Hospice. Hospice care happens because of skilled and compassionate hospice and palliative care professionals. These include physicians, nurses, social workers, hospice aides, chaplains and volunteers. Below is a glimpse of employee insight into compassion driven end-of-life hospice care.

What have you gained from working at Houston Hospice?

 “Knowing that we are truly helping patients, and their families at the most crucial part of their lives,” Robynette Hall, RN, On-call Team.

“What I have gained most at Houston Hospice is compassion and patience,” Sonja Payne, Receptionist.  

“Fulfillment in being a healing presence,” Kathy Flinn, RN, PCM-IPU.

 

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