Archive for Family

The Last Gift

the gift

Cancer as . . . a gift?

“My cancer is a gift from God . . .” is what a patient said to their hospice nurse.

What is your first reaction to that comment? How about, You’ve got to be kidding! Or, Does that patient have a terminal and mental illness? Or you’d be speechless and roll your eyes . . . or shake your head and mutter several tsk-tsks . . . or clamp your jaw shut because your mother told you if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Or would you nod your head in reluctant agreement?

Can you imagine that last reaction—nodding and agreeing—to the patient’s pronouncement? I can, though it helped to hear the nurse’s report of the patient’s complete sentence: “My cancer is a gift from God because it has brought my children closer.”

So far, in my aging baby boomer life, I’ve had several modest traumatic events that became change agents for my attitude toward self, others, and the world. One happened in the year I turned thirty. My left leg met a rocky outcropping during a tumble down a snowy mountain slope. Gravity and granite were against me, and multiple bones were broken. I ended up in a cast for months, dependent upon other people for most of that time. Before that literal and metaphoric break, a divorce from five years before had been festering in my soul. I often doubted and even loathed myself, careening between thinking today was bad but tomorrow could be worse. It wasn’t just the divorce; there were other negatives that burdened me. Nonetheless, I figured to “tough it out” on my own. But the break broke me. I became dependent. I saw people and the world (and me) with different, more forgiving eyes. Read More →

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The Skeleton Dance

Fox and Prince

How are your bones?

As in, all 206 of them. When born, babies have 270 bones. Some soon fuse together. The actual number depends on what you read, and how argumentative you like to be! Me, I wouldn’t want to be tested on the names or number of bones. In a single wrist, there are eight: capitate, hamate, lunate, pisiform, scaphoid, trapezium, trapezoid and triquetrum.

However counted, bones are the solid infrastructure of our bodies.

Once, in a hospice team meeting, as we reviewed a patient’s concerns, a nurse mentioned the ulna.

“What is that?” I asked, ever ignorant.

“It’s a bone in the upper arm,” answered another nurse.

“No,” the hospice physician said, “the lower arm has the ulna and radius. The upper arm bone is the humerus.”

All of us professionals smiled and chuckled. How . . . humorous? Come on now, and sing with me:

The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone.
The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone.
The knee bone’s connected to the neck bone.
Doin’ the skeleton dance.

The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone.
The hip bone’s connected to the backbone.
The backbone’s connected to the neck bone.
Doin’ the skeleton dance.

The Skeleton Dance, a children’s song and a long 200+ list of Latin names we can barely remember and even a thoughtful nurse will occasionally mistake one for the other. Read More →

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Please Don’t Wear Your Hospice Nametags

It feels odd when the hospice staff is asked to NOT wear nametags on home visits.

A spouse or grandparent nears death, but the family doesn’t want the person to know she or he is dying. And so, a scheme unfolds. Perhaps telltale mail is hidden or discarded. If there are any family conversations about dying or death—or other “bad” words—incomplete sentences become the norm if the “wrong” person enters the room. Friends join the hush-hush efforts, though the more talkative or gossipy ones may be left out of any “information loop.”

Often a doctor that’s concluded there’s no longer the possibility of a cure joins the conspiracy. Whether it’s the inevitable health complications of aging or an opportunistic, grim cancer, the physicians and nurses that were tending to the person’s needs remain silent about the prognosis. (Or at least, silent enough.)

And so, when a hospice admitting nurse knocks on the front door (because the person’s physician has formally requested hospice) and a family member opens the door (he or she has likely been peering through windows, anxiously awaiting the visit), the nurse is first greeted with . . . Read More →

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