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Hospice Reflections - Her Passage


Carey Brewbaker

Carey Brewbaker

Year in Medical School: 3rd

Place of Birth:
Wilmington, NC

Where You Grew Up:
Wilmington, NC

College Attended: 
Duke University

Major in College:
Biological Anthropology and Anatomy

Carey Brewbaker

During my week at the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home (KBR), I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to follow the journey of a very pleasant lady named Lisa. Diagnosed with cancer with extensive metastases, Lisa’s prognosis took an abrupt turn for the worse as she was admitted to the hospital for pain, altered mental status, and dysphagia. With the expectation that their patient was approaching the end of her life in weeks, the hospital physicians discharged Lisa to KBR for palliative care.

The very first thing I noticed about Lisa upon introducing myself was her beautiful smile that stretched from ear to ear. In fact, her bright smile and glowing eyes made me question whether or not this lady was actually as ill as I had been told. Somewhat confused at her baseline, Lisa remained appropriate in conversation and was always a pleasure to talk to in the mornings. With her pain adequately controlled, Lisa would spend the majority of her time resting comfortably in bed; as soon as a visitor walked in the room, however, Lisa would perk up to greet everyone present with her big smile and bright eyes.

Visitors were frequent in Lisa’s room, from her daughter and husband that live in town to her sister that flew in from the west coast. What I was most impressed with during my time with Lisa was the dynamic between her and her husband. It quickly became apparent that Lisa was the light of her husband’s life. Although I’m sure he was saddened by the fact that his wife was dying, Lisa’s husband never let it show outwardly. Instead, it appeared that he had accepted the fact that with advanced age death, a natural part of life, becomes a reality. Always cheerful and optimistic, Lisa’s husband continuously praised the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home and the care that she was receiving there. He was entrusting the care of his beloved wife to the doctors at KBR saying "she’s in your hands…do whatever you think is best."

While in the room with Lisa and her husband, I would find my thoughts drifting to all the memories they shared together during their 50 plus years of marriage. From there I would begin thinking about my grandparents, who are about the same age, and their health. How much longer would it be before one of them began to decline in health? Who would be left with taking care of the other? Would they have time to say their goodbyes? What kind of memories would I share with my wife when I get to be that age? Are there things that I, either laying on my death bed or sitting by my wife on hers, would wish I would have done differently or had accomplished before the end of my life? All of the thoughts running through my head made me appreciate the bond between husband and wife as well as the acceptance of death with age, something that I may not be able to fully wrap my head around for quite some time, if ever.

Furthermore, my experience with Lisa helped me gain an appreciation for the services that hospice provides not only to the patients but also their families and loved ones. Hospice provides physical palliative support for its patients as well as spiritual and emotional support for all those involved in the process. Although managing the physical symptoms of the patients to ensure their comfort is important, I believe it is equally important to manage the symptoms of grief in the patients and their families. The emotional strength that is exhibited by the patient or their loved ones is a powerful entity and can be shared or transferred among all those present.

Lisa’s pain and dysphagia were improved during my rotation at KBR, and the plans were for her to return home as long as she remained stable.  While she and her husband had come to terms with her disease process and eventual prognosis, I'm glad that they will get to spend more time together.  I know that Lisa will be forever grateful for her husband's resolve and courage to support her until the very end.  Furthermore, I am confident that when Lisa's husband passes she will be with him in spirit every step of the way.

Editor’s Note: Names and other information has been changed throughout this reflection to protect patient anonymity.

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Last Updated: 01-05-2011
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