Michael “Mick” Long had been living with the back pain from spinal stenosis for years, and had more recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – but this morning was different. When Mick could barely get up to get ready for a doctor’s appointment, his partner of 20 years, Miguel Perez, called 9-1-1.
PHOTO: Mick in Argentina during a family vacation.
Doctors found Mick had pneumonia, and with the progression of his cancer, they urged Miguel to consider hospice. He was hesitant at first, but knew Mick needed a calm, quiet place to rest. When Miguel toured The Samaritan Center at Voorhees, “My world changed,” he says.
Miguel was impressed by Samaritan’s large, comfortable, soundproof rooms, and views of the sprawling grounds. “It was so peaceful, so quiet. The rooms are inviting – it looks like a home, not like a hospital room,” Miguel says. Once Mick was moved into Samaritan, he received respectful and conscientious medical care from the entire Samaritan staff.
“I don’t know if they use special shoes or something,” Miguel laughs. “But you can’t even hear them coming down the hall. They were so quiet and respectful any time they came in to care for Mick.” They were attentive, providing information and education, and gently answering all of the questions that Mick and Miguel had. “The nurses and doctors, all the staff, were a blessing,” Miguel remembers.
Miguel was also reassured by the confidentiality offered to Mick’s family and loved ones during his time at Samaritan. Doctors and nurses instituted a HIPAA code, or verbal password, to ensure that Mick’s personal information would only be shared with visiting family who knew the password, offering full privacy.
As a Vietnam veteran, Samaritan’s staff recognized and thanked Mick for his service with a “We Honor Veterans” ceremony, offered to patients who have served in the military. Mick received a special veteran’s blanket and folded American flag as Miguel and his family stood by his side. These recognition ceremonies are part of a larger Veteran program through which Samaritan provides customized care to Veterans who may have special medical, emotional or spiritual needs.
When the end was near, Samaritan called Miguel to make sure he would be there. Mick passed peacefully, one hand holding Miguel’s, and the other clutching one of Samaritan’s clay hearts – a delicate, one-of-a-kind decorated reminder of love made by Samaritan’s volunteers. The couple’s service dog curled up at Mick’s feet.
“Ultimately, it was the best decision I ever made in my life,” Miguel says of entrusting Mick’s last days to Samaritan. He wishes to visit the Samaritan staff, laughing that he’d like to bring them a case of wine to express his gratitude – but with the limitations of COVID-19, he knows he’ll have to wait.
“The staff were all little angels,” he says. “They have all my respect.”