It is not an unusual story. A 90-year-old man suddenly is having trouble breathing, his heart is enlarged, and his kidneys are slowing down in their functioning. A care conference is called and the family, along with the elderly man discuss options for treatment or not. In the end, the decision is made to not treat and to move to comfort care.
As soon as comfort care is decided, Medicare declares that they will no longer pay for the hospital stay going forward, giving the family little time to prepare for care in the home setting. The family scrambles, the hospital negotiates, and a date is determined for discharge.
Once home, the family now partners with hospice. A plan of care is determined, and the family takes turns following the plan and caring for their beloved Popper. As the days move forward, it becomes clear to the family that they were reaching the time that they would need to transfer his care to the care center for hospice.
In the ambulance the daughter watched while holding Popper’s hand, the beloved family farm fades away as they drove to the care center. The daughter knew that as the sun was setting on the farm, it also was setting for Popper.
The family arrived at the care center, heartbroken, scared and not wanting to acknowledge what was ahead of them. They were greeted with compassion, and the best of nursing care. A new plan of care was developed in collaboration with the family. Shifts were established by the family so Popper was never alone, as the family struggled with what was becoming inevitable.
Then a caregiver named Sammy came into their lives. The family felt support, compassion and held deep regard for those who were caring for Popper. Sammy captured their heart and soothed their soul. Sammy approached each interaction as if it was sacred. When she bathed Popper, she shared with the family that it was a privilege to be able to bathe him. Her touch demonstrated her words. She bathed him as if it was truly the most important action of her day. Cleaning his nails, shaving his face because she could see what a handsome man he was. Her actions spoke to the love she felt for the human being whose body she touched.
It was as if intuitively Sammy knew when someone needed something. She would tap lightly on the door and carry in what was longingly wanted, but not spoken for. Many times, Sammy would quietly enter the room and you would feel her arms around your shoulder. Other times she would laugh and swap stories. Sammy always knew what the family needed. When Popper finally took his last breath, the family was grateful that he passed when Sammy was on shift. They knew that she would hold sacred the preparation of the body. They took great comfort that it was Sammy’s hands that would care for their beloved Popper.
As the family worked through their grief, Sammy’s name was mentioned over and over again. How she had made such a difference to each individual person. The family spoke of how she loved them from the very moment they met her. Love is not a word that is used often when we speak of healthcare. We use the terms compassion, empathy and professional. The family encountered many who were just that — compassionate, professional and empathetic. Yet, it was the one care aide who touched their hearts deeply, because she chooses to love. Her name will not be forgotten. Her legacy is the challenge to all of us, to love those whom we have the privilege to care for, in all times, in all places.
May our touch hold true to the sacredness of touching another human being.
May we acknowledge the humanity that is many times hidden by the trappings of healthcare.
May our hearts recognize that love is the greatest gift we can give to others.
May we all have the heart of Sammy.
(Editor’s note: The author is Popper’s daughter.)
Martie L. Moore, MAOM, RN, CPHQ, has been an executive healthcare leader for more than 20 years. She has served on advisory boards for the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and the American Nurses Association, and she currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board at the University of Central Florida College of Nursing and Sigma. She was honored by Saint Martin’s University with an honorary doctorate degree for her service and accomplishments in advancing healthcare.
The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.