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Taking the fear out of hospice

Providing comfort and kindness to those at the end of life’s journey

The staff of Shirkey Hospice & Palliative Care say they love what they do. The staff, pictured in Shirkey’s chapel, are front row, from left: Angela Cooper, Laurie Hankins, Kathy List and Lynne Goetz. Middle row: Paula Purcell, Becky Clariday and Kathy Lassiter. Back row: Bill Purcell, April Fickess, Amber Lyon, Chris Brown and Rishanda Webb. Not pictured is Shirley Skidmore. (Photo by Liz Johnson/Richmond News)

By Liz Johnson, Staff Writer, Living 50-Plus, Feb. 3, 2017

Death and dying. These words are interchangeable and can be terrifying to anyone. No one wants to die and no one wants to watch a loved one die. Yet, death is a certainty to all of us.

For those of us who are not killed violently, how we choose to die and who we choose to care for us in those final days is something that must be considered and planned out.

I have personally been with three family members during their deaths. For my mother, it was November 1982 and no hospice was available at that time. She was in a Kansas City hospital and my father and her two sisters were with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

By the time my father was sick and dying in 2002, things had changed drastically. Hospice care was available and he had a nurse come in twice a week. My sister and I cared for him. In addition, we had in-home health 24 hours a day, five days a week. Things were much easier to handle with the direction of the hospice RN and in-home health care.

In 2013, when my sister was dying from congestive heart failure, hospice care was really streamlined. Unfortunately, we had a terrible hospice experience with her care, which was not through a local company. Nevertheless, the availability of care through hospice was more comprehensive than it had been in 2002.

We had an RN and LPN assigned to my sister. A CNA came in twice a week to bathe my sister and provide me with a few hours to myself.  When my sister reached the end stages, hospice was available to come in for 24 hours a day until she died.

books. It’s that process that often frightens us the most, especially if those who are the primary caregivers. You are responsible for your loved one – it all falls on your shoulders.

According to the booklet, The Eleventh Hour, A Caring Guideline for the Hours to Minutes Before Death, by Barbara Karnes, RN, “Most people dying from disease or old age just go to sleep. Their breathing changes, they go to sleep with eyes partially open and just don’t wake up. When we get past our fear, we can see the experience as it is really happening and be of support in the moment.”

When my father, who died of kidney failure, was in his last hours, he lapsed into a sort of coma. His breathing changed drastically. His extremities became mottled in color and breathing became very shallow.

When he died, Dad literally drew in one last breath, exhaled it out and was gone. My sister died in a similar way.

All we can do is be there to hold the hand of our loved one. We can show love, support and caring until that last moment – that’s all anyone can do.

The hospice experience

Shirkey Hospice & Palliative Care is a local hospice company that is a 501(c)(3) organization.

“All profits go back into the business,” said Bill Purcell, the chaplain at Shirkey.

Shirkey offers in-home, hospital and nursing home hospice care. It has now expanded into Carroll County and covers as far as Hale, Lexington, Polo and Braymer.

“If we get a call and they need us, we go,” said Angela Cooper, the clinical director at Shirkey Hospice.

Hospice care is as much for the family as for the person who is dying. It provides medical care and expertise, and in most cases, permits the patient to die at home.

Hospice care can remove the terrifying “what do I do?” in various end-of-life situations. If there is a question about medication, the patient gets worse, has additional health problems or won’t eat, you can simply call hospice for help or refer to the booklet provided at the beginning of care.

A chaplain is always available to counsel the family, as well as the patient.

Most families have someone called a “front runner,” or family caregiver.

This person becomes the primary caregiver; the person who gathers information and provides it to hospice; the person who is the liaison with the physician and nurses; the person who makes decisions for the patient.

The complete story is in the Living 50-Plus section of the Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 Richmond News.

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