October 30, 2015
A Story of Love, Comfort, and Inspiration as Told by Hospice Nurse Shery Foshay, RN
Bob (front) from left: Teri, Massage Therapist Amy Goonewardene, Social Worker Joan Ordille, Nurse Shery Foshay,
Every nurse who’s in this profession for the long haul has learned (sometimes the hard way) to find personal ways to self-care, recharge, and re-inspire.
My daily dose of inspiration comes from what I like to call my visor of angels —something that started with one thank-you note from Teri, the widow of my hospice patient Bob.
As a hospice nurse, my office is my car. That 2012 brown Subaru Outback is how I bring care to my patients where they live. It’s the meditation room where I square my shoulders and center my mind as I prepare to call upon a new family who has reached out for physical, emotional, and spiritual help to cope with a relentlessly advancing illness. It’s the private sanctuary where I laugh, or sometimes cry, after those visits. And then, like my car windshield wipers, it’s where I swish away the focus on me and my emotions so I can re-center and be present to meet the next patient and family where they are and walk them “home.”
As I entered Bob and Teri’s home in a large, inviting 55-plus community in central New Jersey for the first time, I was struck by the warmth and simplicity of its tasteful décor. The artful photos, many shot by avid photographer Bob, of family gatherings with his grandchildren…a vibrant lakeside scene at a favorite lake in Maine…special outings with Teri.
Bob, a former telephone technician, was 69 when complications from a stroke and other illnesses resulted in his referral to my hospice, and his assignment to my team. As the primary nurse, I spent my first visit gently guiding Bob and Teri through the understandable range of emotions that accompany a hospice referral: relief that help has arrived, coupled with sad recognition at what that help represents. Because they knew, and I knew, that his physician would only refer if he felt Bob had six months or less to live.
Compounding this realization was the hardship of Bob and Teri’s daily reality. He was bedridden and totally dependent on his wife who was unable to lift him out of the bed without help.
Prior to his stroke, Bob relished his independence and the social encounters of his work. He reveled in hobbies that included photography, singing and playing the guitar, and doing a mean John Wayne impression for anyone who would indulge him.
On one of my early visits to Bob and Teri, I found Teri snuggled next to Bob as they watched Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, playing star-crossed lovers, in the 1957 film An Affair to Remember. With good reason, the American Film Institute dubbed it one of the most romantic films ever made. But Teri and Bob could give Cary and Deborah a run for their money! Like two teenagers on a Friday night movie date, they clutched each other’s hands. Tears streamed down their cheeks, as the screen lovers reconnected after a series of misfortunes for a poignant, happy ending.
Teri, too, had waited a long time – until her forties — to find her soul mate, and their 22-year love affair remained palpably real and romantic in that very intimate moment. I hesitated to enter the room, not wanting to intrude, but instead, they insisted that I sit and join them for the tear-filled ending. At that moment, as they trusted me to share these tender moments, I knew this “journey home” would be special for me and my team.
Teri’s love for Bob, and Bob’s good-humored spirit, helped our team be better hospice providers. She listened and learned how best to care for him and both were willing, receptive partners in our care.
On one visit in mid-October, Bob asked Joan, our team social worker, “What’s it like outside today?”
“It’s a beautiful Fall day,” she replied.
“I haven’t been out of this bed for six months,” Bob said. “I’d love to feel the air on my face…”
At the next hospice team meeting, Joan relayed this logistically challenging, but eminently do-able, wish and the team accepted the challenge. The next week’s weather forecast determined that October 31 would be the mildest, clearest day. With Teri’s blessing, we planned Bob’s Halloween treat – and prayed that the weather gods would not deliver a trick instead.
Prayers answered! Halloween dawned as one of those perfect, crisp days that make you want to be outside crunching an apple! The hydraulic Hoyer lift we ordered arrived on time along with a “geri” reclining chair. The team rearranged their schedules to be available to move furniture to accommodate the lift and special chair.
Wearing giraffe ears and a tail – what’s Halloween without a costume – I arrived with my team to spring the news on Bob that he was in for a fall treat. The look of sheer joy is one I will never forget.
Carefully, we hoisted him from the bed. Carefully, we positioned him in the waiting geri chair. Hurriedly, we rushed him out the door to hear the birds, absorb the kaleidoscope of fall colors and drink in the fresh air – along with a pumpkin latte purchased by Joan. We mixed it with Thick-It so that Bob’s weakened throat muscles could swallow it without aspiration and served it with pumpkin doughnuts to complete the seasonal experience.
At one point, I felt a tug on my giraffe tail. “Who did that?” I asked with a laugh, as I turned to see the mischievous twinkle in Bob’s eye.
As we carefully monitored Bob for signs of pain or fatigue, he sat elated on his porch for four hours with Teri by his side. Like a squirrel storing acorns for winter, Bob stashed away al fresco experiences to literally last him the rest of his life.
When Bob passed several months later, I had the privilege of pronouncing him. Our team chaplain, Anne, officiated at his funeral service.
Weeks later, I received a heartfelt note from Teri. She wrote, in part, “I enjoyed working with you as your “Jr. nurse in training”….I appreciate all the guidance you gave me. It helped so much knowing what was going to happen next and being prepared to handle it.”
The note touched my heart and I decided to fasten it to the underside of my car visor so that I could see it whenever I needed a lift. Over the next weeks and months, as I worked with other special families, one note became two…two became three….
Now, the visor is filled with notes, each carefully arranged for maximum visibility. Each day, as I enter my mobile “office,” I flip down the visor to block out the glare of the sun, and to bring in shining memories, and the spirits of my “visor angels.”
As they inspire me each day to carry on with comfort, love and passion, I’m reminded of the beautiful theme song Vic Damone crooned in An Affair to Remember: Our love affair is a wondrous thing…That we’ll rejoice in remembering…