In the Room Overlooking the Bougainvillea

Blossoms

With a window overlooking the bougainvillea

The patient was restless . . . to the extreme.

An ambulance transported her to our hospice’s inpatient facility—a renovated suburban house in a neighborhood close to the main office—for pain management. The only local family for the dying eighty-something woman was a granddaughter, overwhelmed by raising her own kids while serving as her Gram’s sole caregiver. The patient’s siblings had already died. The patient’s daughter was, again, in rehab in Florida. Her son was an Army officer stationed in Germany, scrambling to organize a plane flight to be with his mother before she died.

[For disclaimer, click here.]

Right now, in the hospice home, in a room with a window overlooking the bougainvillea adorning a fence, the restless patient, a nurse, the doctor, and the chaplain were gathered. One bed was empty. But the second bed by the window, where the patient lay, shifted with her unsettled body, with her soft random moaning, with her eyes opening and closing.

The doctor had tried several medications that she thought might calm the patient. To a certain extent, the dosages worked. Her agitation had lessened. Barely. Read More →

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The Normal, Never-Normal Anguish of Grief

Trees

In grief, the seasons of life need to unfold…

She is crying. I reassure her it’s normal.

He hasn’t shed a tear. I reassure him that’s normal.

After several days of her loving adult children gathered to support her, the mother—now a widow, though she already dislikes the label whenever it appears on a form—tells me she wishes her kids would leave and give her a little private space. But she can’t muster the courage to tell them.

I tell her that’s normal.

[Disclaimer]

The nurse who visited the Hmong-American family (or substitute Russian-American or Mexican-American) after the beloved patriarch died reported that some of the family were drunk, some wailed, some argued, some crowded in the house, and some remained outside. Most told the nurse they appreciated hospice’s care while a few blamed hospice for his death. In her report for the medical chart, the nurse wrote the family’s grief was . . .

Normal.

But in hospice, and in grief, is there such a thing as normal? Read More →

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The Hospice Doctor Didn’t Mean Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

Food is not a humorous subject with hospice patients and their families . . .

When the hospice medical director reminded the patient’s nurse to get a mac, my stomach grumbled.

The nurse nodded. There seemed to be an immediate, unspoken agreement.

A mac? What did the doctor mean? They couldn’t mean a Macintosh computer from Apple, could they? That didn’t make sense. But thoughts of digital apples made me think about real food: had they meant Mac & Cheese? While I’m not a fan of the packaged pasta and cheese, it is one of my wife’s favorite comfort foods.

My food wondering continued. What about a Big Mac? Could the doctor have been recommending a fast food burger? (When younger, I loved McDonald’s flagship burger. The Big Mac debuted, with fanfare and a high calorie count, around the time I started college. If I could scrounge a few extra quarters, I’d always go for the extra all-beef patty and special sauce!)

But we hospice professionals couldn’t have been talking meal deals . . . right? Read More →

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