Special thanks to Optum Palliative Care for making this post possible. All opinions are my own.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” While working as a nurse, I provided care for many patients, and a few of them made such an impact on me that I’ll never forget them. Nearly fifteen years later, I remember with clarity the last day of *Marvin’s life. Marvin was a patient at the nursing center where I worked and he had a horrible infection in his legs that kept him in isolation precautions in his room. As the Care Plan Coordinator, I’d spoken with Marvin’s family more than once about hospice, but they resisted, insisting they weren’t ready to “give up.”
I made it a point to pop in on Marvin a few times a week, to see how he was doing. When I entered his room that morning, he was sitting at bedside in his wheelchair. He looked at me with sad eyes and said, “I’ll never feel the sunshine on my face again, will I?” My heart broke for him as I patted his hand before continuing my day. As my shift continued, I just couldn’t get the look on his face out of my mind. Just before my lunch break, I called some additional staff to his room and together we wrapped his legs in blankets, elevated the leg rests, and pulled a biohazard bag over them (to keep them from draining on the floor), and tucked it under his hips. Then I took him outside to the patio, where I spent my break with him. He didn’t want to talk. He just tilted his head back and closed his eyes, and let the sunshine beat down on him. When my break was over, I wheeled him back to his room. He had the biggest smile on his face. When I returned to work the next day, I learned that Marvin’s condition had taken a turn for the worse the evening before and his family was called in before he died.
I had no idea when I took him outside to feel the sunshine on his face that he would die that evening. Marvin did something that makes most people uncomfortable, something that his family refused to do. He thought about the end of his life. Few people want to think about what it will be like when they are dying. The fear of the awful unknown is enough to direct thoughts elsewhere. Did you know, though, that hospice has been in existence for more than 40 years, and at the heart of hospice is helping you live more when faced with a life-limiting illness? I can’t help but wonder how different his last few weeks could have been, had his family allowed us to contact hospice. They thought that choosing hospice would be a sign of them giving up, and they feared what that might do to Marvin’s mental health.
Like Marvin’s family, most people don’t realize what hospice can do. I couldn’t make them understand that calling hospice didn’t equate to giving up, but that hospice could provide advance care planning, additional care giving, and even grief counseling. They didn’t realize that with hospice, Marvin could have had more cherished moments and more smiles in the end. They didn’t understand that he although he faced a life-limiting illness, hospice could help him do more living in those last weeks.
Marvin’s family sent me an African Violet after he died. Apparently, he’d managed to tell them that I’d taken him outside on my lunch break. They realized just how much that meant to him. In the end, what Marvin wanted most was to feel the sunshine on his face one last time. To this day, I think of him every time I see an African Violet, and every time I hear someone mention that they or a loved one are facing a life-limiting illness, I encourage them to call and see what hospice can do. After all, calling hospice isn’t about giving up, it’s about embracing life when there is life yet to be lived.
Optum Palliative Care is supporting the non-profit 501 (c) 3 National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s, “Moments of Life” campaign. “Moments of Life” educates the public about the choices we all have when facing a life-limiting illness, and how choosing hospice is not ‘giving up.’ The campaign presents the facts about hospice, advance care planning tips, understanding grief, and caregiver stress.
*patient’s name changed for this post*