Home News Local News Help for the hardest time
Help for the hardest time
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
When Violet Hunt was diagnosed with cancer in February, she was given six to 12 months to live.
But she became sick much quicker than anyone anticipated. In order to give her as much care and support as possible, her family organized a schedule so someone was with her at all times.
"We tried to take care of her 24 hours a day," said Ross Hunt, Violet's husband.
Violet's granddaughter, Cheryl Porter, a registered nurse, and her son, Russel, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, both utilized their medical expertise to help care for Violet, while other members took shifts during the day and night.
"It wasn't long before I didn't know which way was up and which way was down," Ross said.
"Then Dr. (Diane) Nowak asked if she could send Hospice."
On Feb. 13, Pathway Hospice began continuous care, which includes having a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at the home 24 hours a day.
Baker City's Pathway Hospice opened in June 1996, and is a branch of Pathway Hospice in Ontario, which is affiliated with Holy Rosary Hospital.
Anyone can make a referral for hospice care, and then a doctor has to judge whether or not the patient qualifies for the program, said Sister Kay Marie Duncan, hospice chaplain since Februrary 2002.
"We take care of the terminally ill," she said. "We affirm life. We don't hasten death, nor do we prolong life. Our goal is to keep them as comfortable and pain-free as possible."
Most who choose hospice prefer to stay at home to receive medical care there, rather than stay at a hospital, she said.
"Technology is wonderful, but sometimes when people get to this point, they just say forget it,' " Sister Duncan said.
Medicare pays the bill for hospice costs, which include "all diagnostic-related medication," wheelchairs or hospital beds anything that relates directly to the disease.
The patient never gets a bill from hospice," Sister Duncan said.
Hospice not only provides medical care and comfort for the terminally ill patient, they also offer support for the primary care-givers.
One service is respite care, when a patient can stay at a nursing home for up to five days, giving the caregiver a break.
Weekly visits from hospice also give caregivers a rest, as volunteers spend time with the patient.
The workbook for hospice volunteers, who undergo 30 hours of training before they begin working with patients, offers 50 suggestions for activities during visits from going for a walk to looking at old pictures or planting an herb garden.
One of hospice's goals "is to try to help people live as well as they can even though they're dying," Sister Duncan said.
Then she points to the end of the list.
"Probably the most important thing is No. 50 to just listen," she said.
Lorna Tonack, whose husband Ron passed away July 6, 2002, said hospice was part of their life for over a year.
"They just made it so comforting to live through. They were something steady in a uncertain time," Lorna said.
The hospice volunteers who visited the Tonack home assisted with everyday tasks, like bathing, dressing and transferring from the bed to the wheelchair, something Lorna couldn't physically handle.
"It was just so essential to my survival," she said. "I had never taken care of a person who is ill for a long duration."
Between the Ontario and Baker City offices, hospice serves 30 patients.
The Baker City office has a staff of three registered nurses, two LPNs, one certified nursing assistant, one social worker, seven volunteers, and one chaplain, who spends equal time at the Ontario office.
Sister Duncan said that each morning the staff gathers to discuss patients they have seen and review the individual care plans.
Though the number of visits depend on the seriousness of a patient's condition, Sister Duncan said most hospice recipients receive two visits a week.
"We have a chance to meet the people as human beings. We say it's the hospice family, and they really do become part of our family," she said.
Violet passed away 13 days after her diagnosis, on Feb. 16, 2003.
Ross Hunt wipes away a tear as he remembers how hospice helped until the very end.
"They knew what was going on when we didn't. Debbie said Go talk to her, she can hear you.'
"She smiled that little smile and 30 seconds later she was gone," he said.
Wendy Wall and Debbie Andrews were the LPNs who came to the Hunt home, each taking a 12-hour shift over a three-day period.
"They were so atuned to what she might need sitting in the chair and watching her, always watching her," said Anita Hunt, Violet's daughter-in-law.
This attention, in turn, took the pressure off the Hunt family.
"I was trying to take care of everybody else because that's what I do. Because of hospice I could be a son, rather than a provider," Russel said.
Sister Duncan agrees.
"That's one of the goals to take as much care of the family as of the patient," she said.
"People open their homes to us, people open their hearts to us at a very important time. I feel like I'm standing on sacred ground."
To learn more about Hospice, call the office at 523-9430, or stop by their office at 1904 Resort St.