The cancer was extensive and had spread fast. As a result of this and after a multitude of hospital stays, he ended up in a skilled nursing facility in a small town in Kentucky.
I was a PRN speech therapist in the building where he was admitted and, at the time, and a mother of two children under the age of 2. Working for me was a respite from being at home with two little ones and I cherished the brief hours I could spend working every week.
I pulled the hard chart from the nurse’s station and entered his room. Instantly, I knew that this was not just a patient with cancer. This was a patient with cancer who was dying. Not to be graphic, but, the dim light, the smell of the room, the lonely look in his eyes … they were all signs that things did not look promising. As I think back on that moment, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Today, however, I am dropping off my youngest two of five children at summer camp and rushing to catch a flight to work. My work world looks much different now. But the life themes around caregiving remain the same.
You see, when I dropped off my children, the youngest, Emmy, takes off to join her buddies while my 6-year-old Isaac gets some morning cuddle time with his favorite caregiver, Miss. Susie.
Miss Susie just happens to be the daughter of the special patient above.
Caregiving full circle.
As a therapist, I have treated hundreds, maybe even thousands, of patients. I can’t say that I remember all of them, but I do remember a lot.
We don’t always remember the ones that we care for the longest, or even the ones that make the most “progress.” At least I don’t.
The ones I recall are often the ones who were the sickest.
In the effort to maintain privacy, I will refer to patient above as “Mr. Jones.”
Mr. Jones was very sick. In addition to the weakness, the extensive cancer treatments had impacted his swallowing abilities.
Despite his weak body, there were a few simple life pleasures he still enjoyed. They included drinking coffee … check, I am a tired mom so let’s drink some coffee together. And he enjoyed listening to music and singing Willie Nelson songs.
His favorite was the tune, “Always on My Mind.”
Our sessions were “aimed” at improving his ability to maintain oral intake for all long as possible. Treatments, however, also included ponderings about life and family, particular his children.
I never met them in person, you see. Their work hours never meshed with our treatment time. I do however recall speaking with one of his daughters on the phone.
Who was to know that just a few short years later we would reconnect in my kids’ lunch room when I was introduced to the loving and caring Miss Susie.
We gave each other the “Do I know you?” looks and then eventually connected the dots to our past.
She cried and I cried and the kids were thinking, “What is the big deal, Mommy?”
Well, it’s caregiving full circle.
When Mr. Jones’ health worsened and he was admitted to hospice care, our treatments continued until they did not anymore.
So often as skilled therapists our presence is much more meaningful than the gains, or the progress, or even the discharge destination. It’s about the caregiving.
So, this morning I wave goodbye to my sweet Isaac as he stands beside Miss Susie, giving her a hug while they watch the other kids on the playground, knowing that he is in the best of hands. And then I drive, and I cry, and I write while I fly to my next job site.
Caregiving, full circle.
Renee Kinder, MS, CCC-SLP, RAC-CT, is Director of Clinical Education for Encore Rehabilitation and is the Silver Award winner in the 2018 American Society of Business Publishing Editors competition for the Upper Midwest Region in the Service/How To Blogs category. Additionally, she serves as Gerontology Professional Development Manager for the American Speech Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) gerontology special interest group, is a member of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine community faculty, and is an advisor to the American Medical Association’s Relative Value Update Committee (RUC) Health Care Professionals Advisory Committee (HCPAC).