Archive for Questions

A Cursed, Crushing, Conflicted Concoction of Feelings

Long ago, maybe around Easter, with Dad, my younger sister, and me . . .

When my father bellowed and ordered me to leave his home, it was as if a double-edge knife had penetrated my heart. Like a rusty, bent blade, it twisted with the volume and intensity of Dad’s outburst.

One side of the blade was love. One, hatred.

We did not know then about his dementia.

Odd how, with those we love the most and the surest, we can experience such damning and damaging of reactions.

Dad’s unexpected roar came partway through a mundane visit home, where I balanced time with my parents while attending a conference. Fine! If he didn’t want me around—though I had no clue why—I could find a motel near the downtown conference, crash with a friend attending the event, or head home where my wife and pets would at least treat me with respect.

Mom intervened.

Odd to sit around the old kitchen table, with my parents now married for six decades, and to have your mother forcefully demand that her husband apologize to their son. Dad did. Looking back now, why wasn’t it obvious? He was hardly smiling anymore. His eye contact with others had become random and held no welcome or curiosity. At that table, Mom chided him. Mom warned him. Mom prevailed. Read More →

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On Guns and Hospice: Is Everyone Safe?

“Is it safe?”

That was the riveting question repeatedly asked in the 1976 film Marathon Man. During a grim and crucial scene, Sir Laurence Olivier’s menacing character demanded—as he wielded dental equipment in the worst way—to know if what he planned to do could be safely accomplished.

“Is it safe?”

Dustin Hoffman’s “innocent man” paid an excruciating price for every hesitation, every uncertainty.

I sometimes think of that scene when one of our hospice’s social workers announces that a patient’s house is safe. When we talk about a new patient entering hospice care, the question about safety must be asked and answered.

Which is to say, are there are any guns in the home? Read More →

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How Much Time is Left?

One of the hospice home health aides (HHA) went to a patient’s home. Among other things, she gave him a bath. Let’s call our HHA by the name of Jane.

“About how much longer will this take?” the patient—let’s call him Arturo—asked.

I don’t know if this was the first bath for Arturo, or if Jane had given him a number of baths over the prior weeks. In hospice, the aides are a critical part of a patient’s care. They do the grunt work of supporting the patient when he or she is most vulnerable: showering or bathing, brushing teeth, commode duties, and helping ensure there is safe movement from a wheelchair to a bed.

Maybe a patient is incontinent with bowel or bladder. Some patients complain often, others make every visit a delight. In certain homes, the caregiver—perhaps the patient’s spouse or daughter—fears making a mistake and the HHA will teach—a literal show and tell—some of the better ways to help with the “simple” tasks for a loved one.

When a patient takes a bath, naked as a newborn, he is vulnerable. When a patient begins to trust the HHA with her failing, fragile body, she’ll reveal fears about living or dying. He might share childhood tales or family memories. She might talk about an ancient guilt or a recent regret.

And many times, patients will ask questions . . . Read More →

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