Breath of Life
Frances was alive, but she wasn’t living. Her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) confined her to a concrete block garage that had been turned into an apartment for her. She rarely strayed from her bed or recliner. The act of simply standing immediately caused her oxygen levels to plummet, threatening her health and safety. Baths took two hours because of the numerous pauses required for her to catch her breath. With her health so frail, it took too much effort for Frances to go to the doctor. On the worst days, she called for an ambulance.
Her frequent visits to the Floyd Emergency Care Center brought Frances to the attention of Floyd’s Community Paramedicine program. The program brings health care to the homes of patients whose diseases are not well managed. Like Frances, these patients often have advanced conditions and few resources. As a result, they seldom see a family doctor and are regular visitors to the emergency room, seeking help for a condition that, if better managed, could have been addressed earlier, preventing an expensive ER visit.
Despite her deteriorating condition and surviving the loss of a husband and a grandchild, Frances remained positive and in charge. She is the matriarch of her family, holding court with her family by cell phone from the safety of her recliner. Her fight with COPD has been courageous, but tiresome and life limiting.
Touched by her resiliency and positivity, Alicia Hendrix and Sarah Ellison, who work with the Community Paramedicine program, wanted comfort for Frances. Alicia mentioned hospice care as an option, but Frances wanted no part of it. It was a scary word for her. Alicia explained that she didn’t want to scare her, but to give her access to resources that could help her live a better life. One day, Frances told Alicia and Sarah that the steroids and other medicines prescribed for her didn’t seem to be working any more. Alicia told her she was right. Her disease progression could not be helped by drugs. Alicia again proposed hospice care, and this time, Frances was receptive.
Alicia and Sarah arranged for Dr. Emma Atherton-Staples to come and talk with Frances, who warmed to the physician immediately. The doctor explained how hospice could help, and she encouraged Frances to look at the decision not as giving up, but as taking charge.
Frances agreed, and over the next several days the team at Heyman HospiceCare swarmed in, providing resources, medical attention, a hospital bed and more. A couple of weeks later, Alicia called Frances to ask if she could come check on her and received the best news. Frances told Alicia she would love to see her, but, for the first time in a long while, she wasn’t confined to her apartment. She was enjoying a special girls’ day out with her mother, sisters and friends. Frances’ hospice team had arranged for her to be transported to her mother’s home for a day of laughter and fun. She thought those days were in her past.
Hospice is the right choice for Frances. Frances gets the resources she needs, even someone to help her bathe, cutting her shower time from 2 hours to 40 minutes. The Community Paramedicine program is not equipped to provide baths, hospital beds or visits with family members. Hospice provides those things. Now, Frances’ life has improved exponentially. Breathing is still difficult, and her disease is still progressing. Now, however, she has access to the resources and comfort care that help her to live with dignity surrounded by family and friends.