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From the Left Hand Corner: Hospice silver lining

We are ever reminded that life is fragile. Also, we are reminded almost daily to expect the unexpected.

Yesterday I awoke, thinking that the first priority was to finish up and send in this week’s column. I’d been working with help from another, who recently alerted me to a technical problem, dilemma and concern. We ”tech Neanderthals” have been oblivious to the invasion of privacy, or tech piracy, of our own National Security Agency (NSA).

Then the phone rang. I had already received one long-awaited, day-changing phone call that caused commitment to further phoning and late afternoon meeting, but this next call was even more urgent and day-changing, as it turned out.

My best and closest lifelong friend is dying. He is at the Veterans Hospital Hospice in St. Cloud, transferred from the Brainerd hospital about a week ago. His daughter was calling to say that the nurses had called to alert that his condition was rapidly deteriorating.

That followed the rather ominous calls from Len’s close sister and brother-in-law. What a change from just a few days before, when we were questioning the Brainerd facility personnel on what seemed to be premature, giving up and directing a transfer to hospice.

On the way to St. Cloud, I was still thinking about the wrapping up of the NSA column. Just a couple hours later, on the way back from St. Cloud, all I could think of was reflection on the likely last visit with Len.

What was a very sad and draining ordeal of watching a dying person I’ve been so close to for 70-plus years was made so much more bearable by the tremendous staff at a tremendous care facility. I came away wishing all veterans and all others could have access to the same level of care that Len is getting in his last days here.

What impressed me most were two young women. They were Vanica and Cassie. I’d probably forget their names before the week is over if it weren’t for the unusual name and the unusual level of care they are providing to their patients. They likely won’t see this, and I won’t likely ever see them again, but they certainly left a lasting positive impression. One had an attractive, ready smile as she bustled about her duties. The other was even more attentive and reactive to every little movement and sound in the room environment generally, and Len particularly.

How difficult it must be going to work each day knowing that none of their clients/patients will ever likely improve or survive.

Yet, these two broke into repeated cheery smiles and continually spoke with quiet assurance and empathy as they went about their physical patient care. They moved unobtrusively and checked on patient and visitor what seemed like every few minutes, yet also left us uninterrupted for times when I was trying to communicate with Len, staying flexible with their care duties.

They also pampered me, securing and placing a chair, turning down competing sound and speaking louder to this hearing-impaired visitor, who took off without hearing aids. They offered comfort aids and explained call buttons that were unneeded due to their level of attention.

Most impressive was their kindly gentle care of Leonard as they monitored the abdominal pain medication port, and as they gently moved and lifted Len’s back and shoulders as they applied supplemental pain patches.

These two entry level nursing young women exemplified what I’ve seen and heard of the whole St. Cloud Veterans facility. The information people, including elder veteran volunteers, extended themselves in giving clear and friendly direction, including telephone access and even dialing to the right person in the hospice building to ensure access and direction inside. The weekend housekeeping worker whom I encountered near the front door surprisingly knew Leonard by name and room number and interrupted her work to walk me down and around hallways to point out his room.

I started out the day with a good feeling about hospice care and hospice workers. We had very good hospice care here at home just last year. But, that good feeling is even stronger now. I just wish that everyone in time of dying could have the St. Cloud Veterans Hospice care that Len is receiving.

It was tough to say goodbye. It has already, and will again, cause some tears. But, it certainly was made easier by two young women. They really seem to care about their work and they do it very well. At least yesterday, they certainly did.

Those of us who have access/coverage are incredibly fortunate in this country to have the level of prenatal to death medical care that is great now and ever developing and improving, but at great cost also. I only wish that it was accessible, available, affordable and provided to all.