Let’s call him Joe. He had lived alone, very alone, for a long time. His home, if you could call it that, was down a long, dirt road, down a long dirt driveway, behind a gate he kept locked at all times.
Joe’s history of erratic behavior, his flashing anger and his unkempt ways had alienated his family long ago and had driven away anyone who tried to help.
When Joe was referred to hospice care, he was reluctant to accept the help, to say the least. Literally no one had been near him or in his home for a very long time. It took a while for the staff to earn his trust, to get him to unlock the gate so that they could drive to his house, to get him to agree to their help with his pain and symptoms. Because they never knew what they might find at Joe’s, for their own safety the hospice staff always went in pairs, usually two nurses, sometimes a nurse and a chaplain, always one of them a male. Very gradually, Joe softened a bit, and most of the time he was receptive and cooperative. The staff knew that living alone like that wasn’t the best situation for Joe, but it was ok for now, the best anyone could do.
One day when nurses Alice and Brian arrived at Joe’s locked gate for their regularly scheduled visit, they honked the car horn as they always did, signaling their arrival so that Joe would come down the drive and let them in. No one came out of the house. They honked again and then again, and finally Joe came onto the porch, keys to the gate in hand, but very unsteady on his feet. He reached to steady himself, and then he fell.
Brian climbed the fence and ran to Joe, got him comfortable, then ran back to open the gate for Alice and the medicines and supplies they had in the car. Joe was conscious, but suddenly he began to have a seizure, then another, then another. Brian called the hospice office, reached Stacy, the chaplain, and asked him to get a doctor’s order and bring medicines that could stop the seizures. Recognizing that Joe could not stay alone any longer, Brian called for an ambulance to transport him to HomePlace, Hospice of East Texas’ in-patient facility.
Alice and Brian and Stacy stayed with Joe, administering the medicines Stacy brought, doing what they could to comfort and soothe him while they waited on the ambulance. It took a long time, because medical transport of a hospice patient is not an emergency. Brian found Joe’s daughter’s phone number in his records and called her. She came to his home, reluctantly. The hospice nurses were able to explain to her that her father had a brain tumor. Maybe he had had it for a long time. Maybe it might explain the violence and anger that had alienated him from everyone, even from those who loved him long ago. Maybe.
Once at HomePlace, the staff bathed and shaved Joe and he was clean, for the first time in a long while. They nestled him in a clean room, in clean pajamas, in a bed with clean sheets. Though he never regained consciousness, Joe was quiet and comfortable, pain free and at peace. He passed away that night, and his daughter was by his side.
At Hospice of East Texas, one of our core beliefs is that every person deserves a peaceful, dignified death. With your help, we give that gift to thousands of patients every year, to people in all kinds of circumstances, people whose Sunday dinner tables are filled with family, people with not one friend. We give that gift to people who live in lavish homes and in travel trailers, to people who will not be remembered and people who will forever be mourned and missed.
With your help, Hospice of East Texas was able to give the gift of a peaceful, dignified death to Joe. With your help, perhaps we also gave some closure and healing for his daughter.
“You know, we see this kind of thing more often than you would think,” said Chaplain Stacy. “There are many people who are alone and alienated, by choice or by chance, and then they get sick on top of everything else. As I like to say, ‘in comes the blue’, the Hospice of East Texas team of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, volunteers. End of life can be a time of reconciliation, a time for a second chance… or a third or fourth.”