Families discuss reservations, realizations of starting hospice care

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By Kacie Goode

This is the third in a series about Hospice of Nelson County, a look at those who are dying and the individuals who care for them in those final moments.

Sarah Jean Carrico spent her life caring for others. A widow for nearly 40 years, she cared for her six children, her community and her parents. Two years ago, when Carrico’s health continued to decline after a cancer diagnosis, Dr. Matthew Stiles approached the family about hospice care.

“When Dr. Stiles suggested hospice, we said, ‘Well, she’s not dying,’ ” recalled Cathy Conway, Carrico’s daughter. But it was after meeting with the staff and learning more about the process that the family became more comfortable. “People think hospice is just when you’re in your final stages, but that’s not the way it is now,” Conway said.

“It wasn’t that she was dying, it was the comfort and the care they could provide,” sister Susan Hurst added.

Carrico was one of the patients Hospice of Nelson County had cared for the longest in recent years. She began her care in August 2015, and remained with the organization until her passing Nov. 15, 2016.

For the children, who witnessed their mother build a connection with the staff, Hospice was a godsend.

They took turns caring for their mother, were helped with managing medications, personal care and making Carrico more comfortable through visits over the next year and a half. 

“Day or night, anything you needed, they were there for you,” Hurst said.

Hospice allowed Carrico to stay at home, and being mostly confined to a wheelchair, the majority of her medical needs came to her. The organization connected Carrico’s family to an additional caregiver, and even after her passing, remained in contact with the family.

“It’s unbelievable caregiving,” Hurst said. “And caregiving is not an easy thing, anyway.”

Like Carrico’s family, others in the community have also been affected by the care Hospice of Nelson County provides.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said Bonnie Burnett, whose mother, Doris Spencer, was a hospice patient. “My mother loved them. She was satisfied, and we were satisfied.”

Spencer started receiving care in the summer. When hospice was first mentioned to her, Burnett said, her mother was against the idea.

“She thought, ‘If hospice comes in, then I have no hope,’ ” Burnett said. She let the organization know her mother’s concerns, and they came out and talked more about it. “They really worked with her and talked with her until she understood.”

When Spencer accepted the care, Burnett noticed a remarkable change in her mom as she built relationships with the nurses and other staff members

“She had dementia, and they were very patient,” she said. “They were so good with her.”

Later, Spencer was baptized in her home with family and staff members by the hospice chaplain. Hospice remained a key part of her life until she passed away Aug. 17, the day after her birthday.

Looking back at the reservations Burnett herself had with Hospice at first, she wants other families to know the benefits of seeking the care early.

“I would tell them they are awesome. They were there for the patient — the person — and the family. Anything we needed or didn’t understand, they sat with us until we understood.”

Burnett said even being available to listen or talk about concerns was helpful.

“If everybody was like this team, this world would be awesome,” she said. “Nelson County Hospice is a good thing.”

The Burnett and the Carrico families remain connected to Hospice even after their loved ones have passed. The positive care is something other families are currently learning about.

Michelle William’s father, Henry Mathis, connected with Hospice about five months ago and still receives care.

An Alzheimer’s patient since 2004, Williams said her dad had been regressing at the time he joined Hospice. Since then, however, she’s noticed a drastic change in both in his emotional and physical wellbeing.

Because his short-term memory has been affected by the disease, Williams said, her father doesn’t always remember the names of the staff, but he still gets excited when they visit.

“He’s grown comfortable having them here,” she said. “They deal with him so personally.”

Williams had talked with her dad about Hospice before he became a patient. Like many others, she too had her reservations about the service, believing it wasn’t the right time to bring them in.

“Over the past couple of months, I’ve seen what they actually do,” she said. “It’s been as helpful to me as it has my dad. They are there for the whole family.”

One aspect of her father’s life that has been helped with hospice is the physical symptoms. When her father began having fainting spells, the nurse, Tammy, helped discover the problem.

“We had some tests done, and figured out his blood pressure was dropping,” Williams said. With the help of the staff, they determined a medication he was on wasn’t working out, and they worked to correct the problem.

“He’s gotten so much better and shown improvement,” Williams said.

Williams said the experience, all around, has been good.

“They have to have very special people to do that job, and every one of them has amazed me,” she said. “It’s hard to explain. I have a completely different understanding of hospice now.”



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