Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Sept. 26, 2002

Touched by angels

My family decided late last week that it's time to begin hospice care for my Dad. I've seen it coming for awhile, but I think it's taken my Mom a bit longer to come to terms with it. She has been so utterly devoted to my Dad that it's really going to be hard for her to let go of some of her care-giving duties - and of the idea that Dad's going to get better.

She has monitored Dad's diabetes and helped him with insulin shots since 1987. She has made sure the doctors have checked his PSA count ever since he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996. In 1997 and again in 1999, she helped him get through back surgeries. Several times this year, she sat beside his hospital bed day and night when his bone marrow stopped producing red blood cells and he needed blood transfusions. When I told her she should go home to rest and let the hospital staff take care of him, she assured me that she was OK and said she wanted to make sure Dad didn't try to get out of bed or pull out the IV needle.

And now, every day - day after day - she helps him get dressed, sees to it that he shaves, makes sure he eats, helps him to the bathroom, and tells him she loves him. On top of that, she dotes on Oreo, a cat she and Dad have had since they lived on the farm. Oreo jumps up on the table next to Dad's recliner and watches over him as he sleeps. He sometimes curls up in the crook of Dad's arm. Along with caring for Dad and the cat, Mom also tends to her garden of geraniums, petunias and mums and draws whenever she can get some time in to pursue that hobby. For my 49th birthday a couple of weeks ago, she gave me a pen drawing of the farm near White City where she and her sister grew up.

As my brother said last weekend, "Mom, you're a trooper."

But even troopers need reinforcements.

Mom, my brother and sister-in-law and I met with a hospice nurse on Saturday afternoon. The nurse explained that hospice care is "comfort care" - trying to make the patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible in his or her last weeks or months of life. Hospice care is also respite care - giving the primary care giver a chance to take care of his or her own physical and emotional health. We discussed the different services that hospice offers and the fact that Medicare covers hospice care. We found out that hospice care involves a team of people - nurses, social workers, pharmacists, health aides, pastors and volunteers. Mom signed several forms, including one labeled "DNR" - do not resuscitate.

Along with the "business" side of hospice care, we also talked about our children. The nurse said she has granddaughters with the same names as my daughters. We laughed about this and that - and we cried about losing people we love.

This is my first experience with hospice care givers, but I've heard from many friends and family members how good they are. I've heard them called "angels on earth" - and they just may be.

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