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Hospice Team Helps Patients and Loved Ones Focus on Life

Even though Giselle Desroches, RN, cares for people in their last months of life, she thinks about hospice nursing as "how do I help a person live — live the best life that they can for as long as they can."

After more than a decade as a hospice nurse with VNA Care, she has hundreds of stories about the ways hospice improves quality of life at the end of life for patients and their loved ones. 

Among those Giselle cared for was a woman with lung cancer who could barely breathe when she moved. The situation was so severe that the woman's life revolved around sitting on a stool in her kitchen. From there, she could easily reach what she needed to get through the day. The patient spent much of her time looking out the window, longing to work in her garden. 

The hospice team adjusted her medication, and provided the information and support the patient needed to feel at ease with the new plan. Giselle stayed with the woman for her first dose of the new medication to make sure she felt comfortable. 

Giselle could hardly believe the change when she visited the patient again. The woman was outside, enjoying a beautiful spring day. She spent much of the next three months doing what brought her the most joy in life, gardening. 

When people with terminal illnesses choose hospice early, they often "marvel at how well they feel because we kind of bang away at their symptoms," said Giselle. "We don't care about what's causing the symptoms as much as we do about how we can make people feel better." 

The hospice team includes nurses, social workers, trained volunteers, home health aides, chaplains and bereavement counselors, medical director, and other clinicians as needed. Care is provided in patients' homes and assisted living and skilled nursing facilities across Eastern and Central Massachusetts. When remaining at home is not possible or optimal, VNA Care offers homelike hospice residences in Cambridge, Needham, and Worcester. 

Patients are not the hospice team's only focus. Loved ones receive support before and after their loss. Giselle remembered the wife of a patient who was struggling with her husband's sudden decline. The wife had been a nurse whose instinct was to "fix" all of her husband's health problems. Although her husband had done well for a long time, his disease was now beyond cure. 

Giselle and the wife talked through her fears and concerns. The couple's children began stopping in during Giselle's visits, and she was able to prepare the entire family for what to expect and how their husband and father would be kept comfortable during this stage of his journey. Giselle said, "He died very peacefully, and they were very grateful for that." 

"To me, being a hospice nurse is a privilege. People allow me into their homes and into their lives during what can be a difficult time of life. I know a lot of our nurses feel the same way," said Giselle. "I carry a piece of each of my patients with me, and it makes me a better person."

Volunteer opportunities

Provide companionship, support, and more to hospice patients and their loved ones in patients' homes or at one of VNA Care's hospice residences. Training and supervision are provided. To learn more, please contact Volunteer Services at 781-569-281. 

VNA Care's Community Cabinets and Friends groups raise awareness of and charitable support for the agency's nonprofit mission. For more information, please contact Karen Webber, director of fund development, at 888-663-3688, ext, 1365. 

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