Sometimes hospice means going back to Virginia

Debbie Friece, R.N. and hospice case manager, is an advocate for the holistic approach hospice provides for patients.

Debbie Friece interviewed for a part-time home health nurse position at Madison County Hospital (MCH) but instead accepted a full-time position in the hospital’s Home Health Hospice pro-gram. She has been there ever since.

“I really felt drawn that this is what I should have been doing,” Friece said. “Hospice is not about dying; it’s really about living.”

Friece was the caregiver for her mother-in-law who died from breast cancer six months before Friece interviewed for the position with hospice. It is the first full-time position she has held since her children were born. She knew little about hospice, but she is now an advocate for the holistic approach hospice provides for patients.

Hospice is for patients with a life-limiting disease, usually with a life expectancy of six months or less. The thing that sets apart hospice from other types of in-home care is that hospice includes access to a medical director, social worker, chaplain, several nurses, home health aides, and physical and occupational therapists. Under the leadership of Dr. Duane Mast, hospice assumes total responsibility for medications, medical supplies, medical equipment, nutritional supplements and requirements related to the terminal illness.

“Hospice is not about extending a person’s life but improving the quality of life in a person’s last days by helping to control their symptoms,” said Cathy Spencer, MCH’s Home Health Hospice clinical supervisor.

“When they’re given proper symptom management and told they can make choices about what they want to do, they are able to pursue things they haven’t been able to pursue in years,” Friece said. 

That was exactly the case with 88-year-old Martha Myers of Mount Sterling, who has been unable to walk and has been bedridden for over a decade.

“She has said for three or four years now that if she could get back to the Blue Ridge Mountains again she would die happy,” said her son, Edson Myers Jr. of Portsmouth.

Myers’ hospice social worker asked her son and two daughters if there was anything hospice could do to help make that trip happen for their ailing mother.

“When this family reunion came up, we asked for hospice’s help to take her to Flatridge, Virginia, in a motor home,” he said.

A couple in her son’s church offered to take Myers in their motor home; the hospital foundation’s hospice fund provided gas gift cards; and Myers’ church collected a love offering so she, her son and her 90-year-old husband, Edson Myers Sr., could travel to the town in which she spent her summers.

“Mom had a fantastic trip and enjoyed it,” Ed Myers said. “When we got home on Sunday night, she said ‘I’ve got the Blue Ridge Mountains out of my system now.’”

If this sounds different from most health care programs, it is. Hospice takes a different approach to end-of-life issues.

“The neat thing about hospice is that it’s the first time in all of your medical treatment, we address every aspect of your whole being —spiritual, physical, mental, social,” said Friece.  “It’s hard as a hospice nurse to go in and talk about these issues, but I find that there is a big sigh of relief when the help is offered.”

She continued, “In medicine you talk about healing and you automatically think about the physical healing, but I see a lot of healing that goes on spiritually and with relationships,” she said. “People review their lives when they think [life is] limited. I’m allowed to sit with someone and listen to them talk about their childhood and their families and how much their marriage and children mean to them. We don’t do that every day.”

Friece said that once things are out in the open, it can be easier for “true healing” to occur.

“With Martha, she was able to go down to Virginia and see her family,” said Friece. “It was something she needed to do, and it was a great thing for the relationship with her family.”

Six nurses, including Friece, see patients in the home and patients living at Madison House and Arbors at London and Arbors of West Jefferson.

“Debbie and our entire team are all very dedicated and passionate about what they do,” Spencer said.

Home Health Hospice also provides respite care, which allows the patient to stay in the hospital for a short time so their caregiver can have a break. The hospice program works with families regardless of their ability to pay.

“Everyone wants their life to mean something and account for something,” Friece said. “I am the one who is privileged to share that with them.”

For more information about Madison County Hospital’s Home Health Hospice Care, contact Merrie Edwards at 740-845-7550.

November of National Hospice Month.

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