The Little Victories

May 21st, 2010

By Brian Bagent

I recently left the full time employ of the hospital where I worked for a little more than two years on a medical/surgical floor to take a job with a hospice agency.  Patients can be put on hospice only if the medical diagnosis is such that an ordinary progression of their terminal disease indicates for less than six months of life.  In short, all of my patients are dying, and most of them won’t make it to six months, though some actually survive for a year or two under our care.

My first two weeks on the job, I was on orientation, so I made regular patient visits as the day shift nurses do.  I had paid two or three such visits to “Mr. Smith,” and we picked up right where we had left off from the last time either one of them had been in the hospital.  After orientation was over (it was only two weeks), my only function was to see patients in crisis or to take death calls and make the pronouncement, and to arrange things with a county Justice of the Peace and the funeral home where the deceased was to be taken.

It may sound like a tough job, and in some ways it is, but we all have our own measure of what we think of as success.  What follows is one such story.

In hospice, we “treat” the families as much as we treat our terminal patients.  A hospice patient of mine also happened to be a somewhat regular patient when I still worked in the hospital.  As it happens, I had taken care of his wife on more than one occasion in the hospital as well, and we had all gotten quite close over the last year or so of taking care of them in the hospital.

He was dying from liver cancer.  His belly was severely distended, and he was in chronic pain, but he still piddled around in his garden, and he still loved going up to Tyler, Texas to fish with his family.  In early April, he and his grandchildren had knocked ’em dead:  they caught about 60 catfish, which he skinned and filleted and promptly gave most of the meat away to family and friends.  He was just a nice guy that way.

Then comes May 7, 2010.  I got a call from our triage nurse advising me that “Mr. Smith” was in crisis, experiencing what we in the biz call “hematemesis” (he was vomiting blood), and could I go over there until we could get the crisis team to relieve me, that I wouldn’t be there more than two or three hours.  “No problem,” I said as I was headed out to my truck. “Tell them I’ll be there in about 20 minutes.”

As advised, I was only there for about two and a half hours, and he was resting comfortably (thanks to a boat-load of sedatives and antiemitics – like Compazine and Phenergan – which also generally induce sleep) by the time the crisis nurses arrived.  I stopped on the way out and talked to his wife for a few minutes.

“You guys still planning on heading up to Tyler on Monday?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  Do you think it would be OK if we did?  I know he really wants to, and I want to take him if it would be OK.”

I didn’t think he was going to die that night, but I also knew he probably didn’t have more than another week or two at best.  Even worse was that his 40-something daughter (who lives on the lake in Tyler) was supposed to be having a tonsillectomy on May 10.  That’s a horrible surgery for adults and can take weeks to get over, so I knew that if he passed when I thought he would, there would be no easy way for his daughter to make the three-hour drive from Tyler to see him.

“If he wants to go to Tyler and see the kids, grandkids, and do some fishing, then y’all are going to Tyler.  One way or another, we’ll make it happen.”

I called my boss and our social worker on the way out the door to let them know what was going on.  We got the trip arranged for our part (Medicare paperwork and all that rot), and they left a day later than scheduled, on the 11th.

He died last Sunday, May 16, 2010, with his family around him, looking over the lake where he had spent so much time.

We should all be that lucky.

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5 Responses to “The Little Victories”

  1. Tom Carter |

    Brian, thanks for a very touching story. It restores my faith in mankind when I’m reminded that there are kind people out there doing their best to take care of folks during their most difficult times. You’re a good and decent man, my friend.

  2. Lisa |

    Brian, thanks for sharing a very moving story.

  3. larry ennis |

    The littlest victory many times is also the sweetest.

  4. d |

    Brian,I admire that you can do such a hard job,it is tough on the heartstrings. You can make such a difference in peoples lives and make their last moments standable. Keep up the good work and keep the faith,good things come to those who wait.

  5. Opinion Forum » Assisted Suicide, Human Rights and Wrongs |

    […] me to add a personal note: I think Hospice is wonderful. It has provided great comfort and care to several of my friends — one here in […]

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