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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Community of compassion

BY KIM DAME Hernando Today correspondent

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When Marlyn held her newborn son nearly 50 years ago, she couldn’t have anticipated the depth of her grief 47 years later when she held him for the last time.

Nor could she have ever understood the impact of strangers she barely knew that changed her experience, and that of her son’s, in his final days.

Like most that have never needed the services of Hospice, Marlyn didn’t quite understand what their role was. “I thought it was where you go to die,” she said.

Her son, Todd, was battling cancer and Marlyn has stepped up to be his caregiver in his final year of life. He had survived surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy, determined to fight for his life.

Like his mother, Todd considered Hospice the surrender that happened only when the decision was made to stop fighting. “He was terrified of Hospice,” Marlyn said. “The word Hospice to my son meant he was giving up his fight for his life.”

Ironically, he did surrender, when the chemotherapy that was meant to kill the cancer cells killed his spirit. “He would be bedridden for five days or more,” Marlyn remembered. He was exhausted, thin, and in tremendous pain. “When he couldn’t take it any longer, he finally said, “Mom, let’s call Hospice.’”

Within 24 hours, an intake nurse was at their door. “She was an Angel of Mercy,” Marlyn said. “She spent four hours talking with us.” Within an hour, Todd was being evaluated for pain and comfort at the Sturgill Hospice Care Center on Cortez Boulevard.

Todd would spend a week at Hospice before being released with a customized pain-management plan that involved an entire team, including his own doctor. And he would return again, after he had completed his chemotherapy, to be re-evaluated, and released again.

He was admitted and released one more time following a crisis with his pain. And prior to his final return, Todd was happy and even spent some time going fishing with friends, Marlyn said.

Although they had planned for Todd to pass at home, the pain had become so unbearable that he required 24 hour pain management, Marlyn said. He spent his final week at the Sturgill location.

Carla Hayes, HPH Hospice community advocate, said that misconceptions about Hospice are common among the public. Her job is to present Hospice in its factual light; one of compassion, empathy and, often times, the preservation of a deeper quality of life in its final stages.

HPH Hospice’s mission statement defines its purpose; HPH Hospice is where excellence in compassionate care maximizes quality of life.

It becomes evident immediately to those who experience its healing and comforting power, whether from the perspective of the patient or from that of the family, that Hospice is focused on the quality of life, not the preparation for death.

In an impressive facility that rests in a quiet setting west of Mariner Boulevard, HPH Hospice provides a myriad of support. A fully functioning care center with around-the-clock medical care provides short and long-term residential wings designed for the ultimate comfort for patients and their families.

Beautifully designed rooms with patio access to a healing garden are the ultimate in comfort. Even though the atmosphere is that of a luxury resort, the medical team is fully accessible 24 hours a day. They provide the same quality of care as a full medical facility while preserving the complete comforts of home.

“At the Sturgill Hospice Care Center, we bring people in for symptomatic management,” said Eva McGrew, clinical supervisor for HPH Hospice. “We control pain, anxiety, agitation.”

Patients may be admitted into hospice for a variety of reasons. For some, it is the final stage before the passing where hospice’s purpose is to give the patient and their families a peaceful place to share their final moments.

But for others, it is part of the process of living. Sometimes a caregiver must find a safe place for their patient while they are away, for instance. Others are admitted for evaluations for pain and comfort before being released back to their place of choice.

“We work to get the patient stabilized and try to assist them back to their home or their choice of where they want to be,” explained McGrew.

Sometimes that isn’t the most logical outcome, she added. “In that case, we try and make them as comfortable as possible so their death isn’t a traumatic event for the family.”

The Sturgill Hospice Care Center consists of three wings, each with an atmosphere that focuses on premium comfort.

The residential wing is for longer-term stays, explained McGrew. “It’s not a nursing home. It’s not forever. It just gives patients a little extra time to get their discharge plans in place.”

But Hospice is also about providing a system of support for the patient and family by providing services like those listed below:

•Above all, dignity and compassion for our end of life patients, and peace of mind for their families.

•A treatment program customized for each patient, to make the most of every day.

•Treatment for patients with any terminal disease, including chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, dementia, and other conditions, as well as cancer.

•Continuous and uncompromising focus on comfort and pain management.

•Regularly scheduled visits from hospice nurses who specialize in recognizing and treating the pain and symptoms of terminal illness.

•Personal care by hospice aides.

•Physicians and nurses, on call 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, who can provide comfort as the disease symptoms progress.

•Equipment and medication related to the patient’s life-limiting illness.

•Companionship and family respite by trained and understanding volunteers.

•Counseling for family as well as the patient to help cope with the life-limiting illness.

•Spiritual care with a chaplain who nurtures and supports your family’s belief system.

•Bereavement counseling for survivors in private and group settings.

•Special children’s bereavement programs that includes individual and group counseling and age-appropriate camping weekends.

•Six neighborhood offices to bring critical resources close to where they are needed.

“The night before he passed, we were watching television together and laughing,” Marlyn said, her eyes slightly moistening at the memory.

“You see,” she continued, her voice slightly shaking, “it is not a death sentence. Because of hospice, the last three months of my son’s life, he had a quality of life. He was able to get out of bed and enjoy his family.”

Marlyn recently attended a gathering to pay respects for loved ones lost. Hosted by HPH Hospice, “Our Time for Remembrance” event is held twice a year for the families of lost loved ones and bring together those who chare a similar grief.

Guests wrote messages to their loved ones on rice paper. Marlyn wrote to Todd, which was then placed in a tub of water, along with the messages from other guests to their loved ones, where they would dissolve and linger together.

Vials captured the water and sealed, then given to each guest along with a packet of Forget-Me-Nots.

Marlyn prepared the spot outside her home where she would plant the flowers and then nurture the seeds from the vial that held her message to Todd.

“I took care of him for a year,” she said. “But it was the three months with hospice that gave him a quality of life.”

To learn more about HPH Hospice, visit their website at

Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at

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