08 August 2015

Recap of Respite Care

My Parents LCFH "Sleeping Arrangements"
If you follow me on Facebook, you no doubt already know that we all survived our five glorious days of Respite Care. Lower Cape Fear Hospice once again exceeded my expectations in more ways than I can begin to recount. 

My parents were treated as if they were the parents of every member of the LCFH team who cared for them and really, can you ask for more than that?

When I went to pick Mom and Dad up at the appointed time, I wasn't quite sure what to expect but I need not have worried. When I walked into their room, it was apparent they were happy, quite at ease and being tended to with the warmth and compassion that is so deeply ingrained in every facet of care that Lower Cape Fear Hospice generously provides. We experience this every single week as we are visited by our CNA Patti, Nurse Olga and Social Worker Kim. As it turns out, LCFH also has a beautiful contingent of folks who deliver inpatient care with all the kindness we've been exposed to in our out patient experience. 

Dad, Kitty Cat and Mom
My first thought is...how do you adequately thank people for treating your family as if they were their own? Not only did they take care of my parents but, by extension, our hospice took care of me. When I asked for updates, I received them. When I was feeling tense and wondered if taking advantage of respite care was the right decision, our outpatient team firmly (but gently!) reminded me that it was the wise thing to do. In every way I can possibly recount, it was an exceptional experience for the three of us and I am profoundly grateful for every single healthcare worker, administration employee and the vast network of volunteers who touched my parents' lives.

On that first day of admission, when it was time for me to leave Mom and Dad at the care center, I gave them both big hugs and kisses, walked out into the corridor with  CNA "Kitty Cat" and Nurse Jane, and proceeded to cry my eyes out. Seriously, I was a mess. I had no idea all of this emotion was welling up inside of me but walking out of their room it hit me like a ton of bricks and clearly Kitty Cat and Jane saw this emotional tsunami coming and they both enveloped me in the most comforting embrace. Even though I'd only met these ladies fifteen minutes prior, they extended such compassion, gave me courage and allowed me to feel the gambit of emotions that overtook me. In fact, Kitty Cat walked me down the long corridors to the front door, reminding me to take it easy on myself in the next five days, to breathe, to rest, to sleep and to find some joy. It was as if she knew every concern and stress even before I could articulate it, and she graced me with solace. I will never ever forget her or that moment. She gave me permission to fall apart and then she held my hand while I put myself back together again. 

During my parents' week of respite, they made many new friends. Though their lack of short and long-term memory doesn't permit them to remember names, it was obvious they had experienced a wonderful week. On my first evening "home alone", I received a Facebook message from a woman with whom I share a mutual friend. She introduced herself and explained that she was a hospice volunteer and visited the various LCFH Care Center campuses, sharing her musical talent in the form of playing the folk harp. She then asked me if I would like for her to visit my parents. I was stunned. Talk about reaching out! Of course, I told Carole that I was sure my parents would love a visit with her, as they both love music. A couple of days later, I received another message from Carole telling me about her visit with Mom and Dad and how, upon entering their room and seeing the two hospital beds pushed together, she KNEW she had found them. As she told me about her visit and how much they both enjoyed it, how she even took requests from them and played "Country Roads", I read her words through teary eyes and a wide smile. There are so many kind and generous people in this world who must share some close lineage to angels. Receiving these messages from Carole warmed my heart and touched my soul. I hope someday to meet Carole and thank her personally for this huge gift. 

 Mom, Kitty Cat, Daddy and Jane
There were others, too. Nancy, another LCFH employee, called me during my parents' stay to give me a real status update and in doing so, she enabled me to relax and enjoy the rest of my "time off". She told me about an LCFH volunteer named "Mio", who struck up a remarkable friendship with my parents...so much so that she visited them two days in a row. As I  understand it, Mio is an artist and Mom and Dad found an instant connection with her. Once again, I don't "know" Mio, but I hope I meet this woman someday so that I can thank her for sharing her time and heart with my "twins". 

In another display of going "above and beyond the call of duty", our precious outpatient nurse, Olga, called me during our respite week, encouraging me to relax and take advantage of my time off. In fact, I found out about a week later that Olga had visited Mom and Dad at the Care Center, which is just another example of the quality of care and compassion that we've been exposed to since their admission in April. Even with her busy schedule of other patients to see, along with her own life outside of work, taking care of her family, Olga found the time to stop by and visit Mom and Dad. This clearly illustrates a theory I have that the folks who are employed by LCFH are truly "called" to do what they do. There's no other explanation because these folks do so much more than simply perform duties as stipulated in their job description. Each member of our team is something of an "overachiever" when it comes to care and I suspect their hearts are extra large. 

Our Social Worker Kim is also vital source of strength for me personally. Kim is my "lifeline" and I swear no matter how crazy my days and weeks might be, an hour spent with her is pure therapy for me. Kim is a great listener - in her role as our Social Worker, she is the part of LCFH who ministers to the caregiver, in addition to checking in on the psycho-social health of the actual patients. Kim's visits give me a chance to vent, to express my fears, worries and concerns. In addition to a being the most sturdy, non-judgmental "sounding board" imaginable, she offers me resources, helps me figure out the crazy logistics of the complicated work of being a primary caregiver to two parents and she shares insights. Kim gives me the golden gift of understanding, validating my feelings, reminding me I'm not crazy (yet) and as with every LCFH professional who visits our home, she begins and ends each visit with a warm hug. I can't tell you how welcome those hugs are because, whatever else it is, care-giving is a notoriously lonely business. 

In other words, it required an orchestrated effort by a lot of professionals to make my Mom and Dad's respite week a lovely success. In fact, it requires a great deal of work by a good many folks to make any transition from home care to inpatient care a smooth experience. What's strikes me as nothing short of miraculous is that there are so many people who make this possible, who pave the way for the rest of us every single day. It's kind of easy to forget all that's required - the medications, meal schedules, personal care (baths, showers, etc.,), and activities that soothe the soul in the form of music, volunteers and staff visits who engage the mind and warm the heart. It's easy to forget all of the components because our hospice team members, both outpatient and inpatient, make it look so uncluttered and seamless that we don't see how much hard work and collaboration is truly required. It isn't magic. It isn't smoke and mirrors. It is love and commitment, and it emanates from the very heart of Lower Cape Fear Hospice. It's a staff who gives great consideration to the needs of their patients, both physical and emotional, who created a room where my parents could be together, even as they slept. 

I don't know the statistics, but I would say it's a rare event where a husband and wife are admitted to hospice, and to respite care, on the very same day. Rather than treat my parents as a double work load, they were welcomed as cherished guests, tended to as family and discharged as loved ones. As I lead Mom and Dad down the long corridors, Jane, Kitty Cat and so many others stepped out of their routine to embrace them, expressing how much they enjoyed having them and inviting them to come back soon in such a sincere and endearing tone that I found my eyes leaking just as they did when I admitted them five days earlier. You know how you can tell when people are simply following a script, saying what's expected because it's their job and sticking to the company line as outlined in some corporate handbook? There is none of that at Lower Cape Fear Hospice. Mom and Dad left wrapped in a cloak of genuine affection. That brand of caring isn't simply rare...it's priceless. 

When we pulled into my driveway after saying our goodbyes, my dad had no real idea where he was. He wasn't even sure where he'd been, but he said he had a really good time. My Mom, a bit more cognizant (at times), reported she'd had a wonderful time visiting with all of her old friends and it was "so good to catch up with everyone!". It took my dad the better part of a couple of days to understand that he was home and it took Mom no time at all to explain that, while she was glad to be home, she really missed her friends. 

First Evening Back Home
I guess you could say my parents "week at summer camp" went better than expected. As for me, I wish I'd stressed less and relaxed more, but it was a learning experience for all three of us. We're now back in our "pre-respite" routine of meds, meals, locked doors, and bed times but thankfully we still have our LCFH "home team" lighting our way. Visits from Nurse Olga, CNA Patti and Social Worker Kim remind me feel that I'm not managing this alone...not by a long-shot. 

I always wished, particularly in later years, that I had a few siblings to lighten the load and tag team parental care responsibilities and I still envy families where each adult child is doing his or her part but thanks to LCFH, I no longer feel all alone. 

Right now all I can do is be thankful and deeply appreciative for all of the superb care we've been given these past few months but someday, I really hope to be in a position to give back some of the gifts that have been given to us. I don't ever want to forget all of the support and kindness we've enjoyed and what a positive difference it's meant to all three of us. I hope at some future date, I'm given the opportunity to pay it forward.