Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bonner Community Hospice Helps People Thrive at the Last Stages of Life

Hospice. An approach to care where patients and their families can turn for care and compassion during the end of life’s journey. But what many people don’t know is that the philosophy of Hospice centers around life.

“We are all dying,” said Debra Kellerman, the Executive Director of Bonner Community Hospice. “Yet Hospice care is really all about living fully throughout the course of a life threatening diagnosis. And while hospice is what you do at the end of life’s journey, it can actually prolong life.”

When there are no curative treatment measures left and it is estimated that a patient has six months or less to live, Hospice is a natural next step for supporting both the patient and the family.
But what Sandpoint residents Bob and Sharon Nale want people to know is that Hospice can save lives too.

“It is not a death sentence when you call Hospice,” said Bob Nale. “There’s much more to it than that. Hospice ministers to people in the healing process.” And if anyone should know, it is Bob.

In the summer of 2006 Bob suffered from poor lungs, kidney problems, a non-functioning colostomy, and a fistula - an abnormal opening – from his stomach area to his skin which was draining large amounts of fluid. He was extremely weak.

One doctor said he probably had two weeks to live; another said possibly six weeks.

“I was convinced I was going to die. I wanted to come home,” said Bob of his 2006 hospitalization at Kootenai Medical Center. “I came home and went right into the hands of Hospice.”

But even doctors cannot predict miracles, and after being under Hospice care for two years, Bob was discharged in October 2008.

"I didn’t meet their expectations,” he says with a smile.

During the time Bob and Sharon were preparing for Bob’s death, the team of Hospice staff and volunteers worked hard to make sure Bob was comfortable and that the couple’s needs were met. They exercised Bob’s legs, brought in medical equipment to help drain the opening in his stomach, gave Sharon some respite to attend to her needs, and provided spiritual support.

Both Bob and Sharon say the reason Bob is alive today is because of Hospice.

“They helped Bob with any physical pain or discomfort he had,” said Sharon. “They also helped us, especially me, with our emotional and spiritual pain. Those were down times, but Hospice was there through it all.”

With the help of Hospice, Sharon was able to get the medical equipment she needed to help drain the fluid from Bob’s fistula, providing relief from constant bandage changes while also providing Bob time to heal. According to Bob and Sharon, that was the turning point.

“When there was a need, Hospice saw to it that the need was met,” said Sharon, saying that Hospice always adapted to whatever the family’s needs were at the time. “Everything seemed to work together to fit all the medical puzzle pieces together tightly to make the conditions right for Bob’s healing, rather than his death.”

Initially confined to a hospital bed set up in their kitchen area, Bob was too weak to call when he needed help. Sharon slept many nights on the living room couch nearby but was still worried she would not be able to hear Bob when he needed her.

“Hospice brought me one of those monitors people use to hear their babies,” said Sharon, who was able to rest easier knowing she could hear Bob if he summoned her.

A pastor at Clark Fork Lutheran, Bob received a visit from the Bishop for the local Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and was anointed with oil the Bishop brought from the Holy Land. It was two days later a local doctor examined Bob and said he thought he would recover and advised him to begin to try eating solid foods again

A goal setter by nature, Bob’s initial goal was to live until his 80th birthday; November 16th, 2006.

On that day Bob was able to get out of bed and sit in his living room chair where sixteen people from his congregation helped him celebrate. From there it progressed to sitting at his computer writing devotions, writing sermons and returning to preach his weekly services at Clark Fork Lutheran. His next goal is one of retirement which will likely take place at the end of May after 60 years of preaching.

Sharon says had it not been for Hospice, Bob would not have been able to meet those goals. She encourages people who aren’t sure if they should call Hospice to contact someone they know who has had their services or to call Hospice itself. “They’ll be enlightened,” she said.

Sharon and Bob said one of the Hospice staff, Joy, visited on a regular basis, exercising Bob’s legs while he was still bedridden. Sharon believes if it hadn’t been for that, she is not sure Bob would have had the strength to walk again.

After awhile Sharon said she saw her husband gain not only his physical strength but also his emotional strength. Bob and one of the Hospice nurses formed a special bond.

“They were on the same intellectual level,” said Sharon. They exchanged books and talked about world events.

“Bob didn’t have an interest in anything when he first came home. And when she (the Hospice nurse) first came there was a tiny flame still in Bob. Each time she was here she fanned that flame and it just got bigger and bigger,” said Sharon, who also credits Hospice Chaplain Steve Neuder with providing wonderful spiritual support.

“His coming was special because he always had a prayer. And his prayers were always from the depth of his heart,” said Sharon.

Kellerman said that only one out of every three people who qualify for Hospice actually utilize its services. But surveys find that the majority of people state being able to die free from pain with loved ones nearby in their own home as one of their most important values at end of life.

“But many people are not dying on their own terms. Too many people are dying without the support of good palliative care. While people are more and more aware of the difficult decisions that may be needed at the end of life, communicating those wishes is imperative,” said Kellerman. She hopes that through education and improved communication, both residents and the medical community will become increasingly aware of the value of Hospice and how they help people not only prepare for death but to live fully while doing so.

And now nearly three years after her husband was first referred to Hospice, Sharon says it makes her smile when she sees Bob walk out into the yard to pick up some twigs or just take a short stroll. She adds that listening to Bob preach is also a very special time.

Both Bob and Sharon are grateful for the last few years and believe had it not been for Hospice they would not have had that gift.

“They take their quality of care mission seriously,” adds Sharon.

“I appreciate all the help they gave me,” said Bob. “They gave me hope and gave me the physical support I needed. They really saved my life.”

To learn more about the services Bonner Community Hospice provides, please contact them at 208-265-1179. Bonner Community Hospice serves both Bonner and Boundary counties.

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