Archive for Questions

How Much Longer?

Always about time

One of the hospice home health aides (HHA) arrived at a patient’s home. Her to-do list would include bathing a patient with more than eighty candles on his cake. Let’s give our HHA a fictional name like Fran. (That is my mother’s name, so I’m openly providing a clue for my good thoughts about this part of the hospice team!)

Soon, the bath was underway.

“About how much longer do I have?” the patient asked. (And let’s say his name is Arturo.)

I don’t know if this was Arturo’s first bath, or if Fran 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 patient’s spouse, adult child, or other family member is the primary caregiver and dreads making a mistake. The HHA will teach—a literal show and tell—the most efficient ways to accomplish the simple tasks for a loved one. The tasks of caregiving, however, are not simple. Any idealistic thoughts about how great it is to support a dying loved one at home can quickly change with the actual day-to-day demands. Caregiving is hard work. A good HHA will try to make the family’s “job” less stressful. Read More →

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Beware the What-ifs

the what ifs

After a loved one had died, the what-ifs can seem like a weight pressing against our hearts. Won’t they finally lighten as the clock keeps ticking and the calendar pages turn? But what if the what-ifs keep troubling us? They can randomly appear, like odd noises jarring sleepers awake in the depths of night.

What if . . .

  • My husband had quit smoking years before?
  • My wife had gone to the oncologist earlier?
  • I hadn’t given that “last” dose of morphine?
  • You hadn’t flirted with the passenger on the plane?

Are what-ifs like an airborne virus? Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines disease as:

“a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.” [Underlining is mine.]

Grief is not a disease! It’s a normal response to loss for every young and old, outgoing and shy, athletic and geeky, faithful and faithless, clever and awkward, silly and serious, greedy and generous individual. But many aspects of grief impair (or implode) normal functioning. Read More →

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Grief, Unseen

Physical Therapy

I kept my questions casual when first talking with her.

Let’s say her name is Anne, which is not true. And let’s also say, to protect the proverbial innocent, that Anne’s friend’s name is Bryn. Both are in their early twenties. I met them because they were part of the physical therapy staff where I went for an irksome left knee. Anne and Bryn were friendly and efficient; they comfortably joked with patients, shared words of encouragement.

During a particular session, Anne was the one reminding me which exercise came next. She brought me the special flexible ball to help stretch my lower body, and later set the timer for how long I should be moving my limbs back and forth, side to side. I usually bantered with Anne (or Bryn), though sometimes I silently, steadily plowed through the required series of exercises.

When finished with a routine, I asked Anne the question that led to the question.

“Didn’t Bryn tell me that she started working here because you recommended her for the job?”

Anne grinned. “Right. She graduated from college and wasn’t sure what to do next.”

“How’d you two meet?” Read More →

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