Dad was a traditional 1950’s father. He worked hard so that he could provide a good life for his family. We lived in the country where he installed a swimming pool. The entire neighborhood had summers filled with swimming, Marco Polo, and frozen Twinkies for after water snacks. Our quality of life was simple, yet tremendous.
When it came time for me to go to college, the traditionalist said “Teacher or Nurse?” “What?” I responded. He said “Do you want to be a teacher or a nurse; those are your choices as a woman.” I had aspirations of journalism and traveling the world with National Geographic. He said, “I will pay the bill, teacher or nurse?” I responded,” NURSE!” And the decision was made!
I was good in science, but discovered one big problem. I had an aversion to blood. It made my stomach flip flop. Limits your choices in the nursing field don’t you think? I persevered and learned to draw blood, start IVs, and witnessed births and surgeries. But I knew I needed to find a career path outside of traditional hospital nursing that did not entail blood at every turn. Not long after graduation, I was introduced to home health care. Home health is designed to provide people with the tools they need to direct and empower their decisions so they can attain optimal wellness. I was hooked. The best of both worlds that my father advocated for, a nurse, who got to teach her patients in the place they called home.
This was 1981 and my first home health job was with the Visiting Nurse Association of Porter County. It was a ground breaking time for the home health industry. Physicians and payer sources discovered that people treated at home often recovered quicker and stayed well longer. Additionally, folks who had exhausted most forms of curative medicine could be supported in the home environment to spend the end of their lives surrounded by the things and people they loved. Elizabeth Kuebler Ross’s work with identifying the stages of grief was common reading in the medical community. And, Cecily Saunders, the mother of the modern day hospice movement, gained international recognition for her idea that “total pain” included physical, emotional, social and spiritual distress. The VNA studied this “new” concept, and started the first hospice in the county.
As life went on, my husband and I were named the medical health care representatives for all four of our parents. We learned intimately the concept of defining your wishes for your life, especially when faced with a medical crisis. Each of our parents had very different end of life journeys, but we were fortunate to have had the hard, difficult discussions and we knew what quality of life meant for each one.
Last year while attending a conference, we were privileged to hear Dr. Atul Gawande speak. He wrote the award winning book “Being Mortal.” Dr. Gawande became the health care advocate for his father, a surgeon, who was diagnosed with a massive spinal tumor. This experience led him to explore the world of palliative and hospice care and to learn that the “ultimate goal is not a good death, but rather, a good life, all the way to the end.”
I am so pleased that we are able to bring to Porter County, Dr. Gawande’s Frontline documentary “Being Mortal.”Hosted by Valparaiso University College of Nursing and Health Professionals and Pines Village Retirement Communities, and sponsored by the VNA of Northwest Indiana, the film explores what matters most to patients and their families who are experiencing serious illness. The film will be followed by a panel discussion led by a physician, family member, social worker and attorney, all whom have experience in helping to guide quality of life for those at the end of life. Please join us for this important discussion. See our website pinesvillage.org for details.
Dr. Gawande summarizes it best when he writes, “Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the dying role and its importance to people as life approaches its end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdom and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those left behind will be okay. They want to end their stories on their own terms.”
I want to do that, don’t you?