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Constance Alexander: Giving thanks to those who provide special care during National Hospice Month

A line from a familiar Thanksgiving song — “All is safely gathered in” — rings true, especially in November, National Hospice Month.

According to Murray-Calloway Hospital’s hospice orientation guide, hospice provides “a special kind of caring” at the end of life. Since 1981, the hospital has offered at-home hospice support, but for the past six years – after extensive fundraising and informational efforts throughout the community — MCCH built a free-standing residential hospice house, named in honor of Anna Mae Owen.

In the season of giving thanks, those who staff hospice in homes and on-site were eager to express the many ways they are grateful to be doing work they are committed to. From the director, to nurses, aides and volunteers, they sing the praises of hospice and the simple gifts it yields as they work together to provide comfort and kindness to people nearing the end of life’s journey.

(Photo by Debi Henry Danielson, Murray Art Guild)

A nurse for thirty years, Director Sherri Boyd describes her hospice work as “the most rewarding experience of my life.”

“Every day when I go to work, I make a difference,” she admits, adding that she finds personal satisfaction on the job and garners gratification in supporting her staff.

As director, Boyd coordinates a team that keeps all the parts moving smoothly when specialized skills of hospital staff are needed for end-of-life care.

She recalls a recent patient in the hospital in Nashville who decided it was time to remove the ventilator and let nature take its course. When the patient wanted to be moved to Murray so family could visit more easily, Sherri Boyd orchestrated the process with her usual grace.

She made the appropriate arrangements with the local hospital’s respiration therapist and coordinated the necessary meds through the hospital pharmacy.

“We had the policies and procedures in place so the family was able to spend quality time with their loved one,” she said. “It gave them a memory they will have for the rest of their lives.”

“That’s what hospice is about,” she declared.

In keeping with the homelike hospice atmosphere, the worker in charge of housekeeping, Alma, humbly describes what she does as “just cleaning.” As a result, the wood floors gleam, the sitting areas, and the well-stocked library are spotless and welcoming. She keeps the six private rooms in spotless order and makes sure everything is germ-free. The working atmosphere is “laid back,” according to Alma, and she adjusts to whatever the patient and family want and need.

“I’m thankful to work here,” she said. “Here I feel at home.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Laura, a nursing assistant,” works her magic in the homes of hospice patients. Sometimes her assistance is medically oriented, but often she is called on for other tasks. “I get to know the families,” she says. That can mean helping them decorate for the holidays, going through old pictures with the patient, offering moral support to family members. Whatever the task, she sees her job as one of service.

“Everybody goes through the grieving process,” she muses, “and I try to give them comfort,”.

Registered Nurse Mindy chuckles as she describes herself as being “divided in two.” She works on the home side and the hospice house. She confesses that she was tempted to leave the profession during Covid but being with hospice has changed those sentiments.

“I’m back to helping people,” she says. “I’m thankful for patients and families and I get to meet interesting people.”

Another RN, Susan came to hospice after years of working at a doctor’s office, where the focus was on wellness. Now she describes her work as being “at the other end of the spectrum.”

“Mind, body, and spirit are one,” she continues, admitting that often she cries along with patients and families. “Sometimes we’re a bunch of big babies,” she says.

Amanda, also an RN, has been at the hospice from the time the Anna Mae Owen House opened. She takes pleasure in the comfort of patients, including pain management and recognizing the value of creature comforts at the end of life.

“Sometimes we have to try something different,” Amanda explains. “We’ve gone out to get a patient a cheeseburger and fries. The patient sets the schedule. If they sleep late, we don’t wake them up. They go to sleep when they want to. Here the patient is in control.”

With all the solace and professionalism hospice gives, the end of life can be beautiful,” according to Amanda, and for that she is grateful.

With almost five years at the hospice house, April appreciates the way all the workers provide constant care. “We tell the patient we’re here for you. We love you. Sometimes we just sit with them, hold their hand. We don’t let anyone die alone.”

Hospice volunteers are another part of the process and a source of patient and family support. Lloyd learned about hospice when his wife was an at home patient. Now, as a volunteer, he is the receptionist. He welcomes people to the facility, directs family members, answers questions. “It is a way to pay back,” he says.

One of the newest hospice volunteers, Reika, explains that she got involved because of her passion for learning.

“I am interested in the rhythm of life, and how the rhythm works at birth, how life flourishes, and then how the rhythm of nature moves to a long breathing out. I’ve always been interested in what death is about,” she admits, “and I’m thankful for the opportunity to see how it happens and to learn by observing at hospice.”

For more information about the Anna Mae Owen Residential Hospice House and the MCCU Hospice Program, visit www.murrayhospital.org or contact Sherri Boyd at 270-767-3670.

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