Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Palliative Care

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Once we realized the seriousness of Dorothy’s condition, I thought that her survival would be a matter of hours or days. Taking Dorothy’s wishes into consideration, the decision was made to wean her off all the IV medications and then to provide comfort care. I was doubtful that she would survive long without the IV drips that were sustaining her heart rhythm and blood pressure. 

On the contrary, Dorothy continued to be alert and in good spirits after she was taken off her IV regimen.  On April 4, the fifth day of her hospitalization, she was moved to the Palliative Care Unit where the focus of care would be upon keeping her comfortable.  The day before, when I was visiting her, Dorothy said she would like for me to “bring me some of that Joe Mugs coffee.”

Joe Muggs Coffee in English Village
Just two or three years earlier, while we were in the process of recording Dorothy’s life story, I took her to Joe Mugs coffee shop one afternoon. Knowing her fondness for coffee, I thought it would be a good outing.  Dorothy was thrilled as she made her way carefully down the brick inlayed sidewalk of Mountain Brook’s English Village. She took her time using her four-pronged cane to steady her steps, and wearing those bright pink crocs which had become her favorite footwear.  As it turned out, Joe Mugs became a favorite spot for her and we made several subsequent trips to that coffee shop. So it was that I honored her request by stopping by on my way to the hospital the next morning to pick up two cups of coffee one for Dorothy and one for me. When I arrived at her room on the Palliative Care Unit, we were able to share some “coffee time” together.  

Her Friends Kept Watch

We took turns staying with Dorothy while she was in the hospital. My wife, my daughter and I would sometimes play “tag team” so that there could be someone with her as much as possible. Sometimes we would sit and talk, sometimes we would watch TV together (“Little House on the Prairie” was one of her favorites). Her friends from Glen Iris Baptist Church, particularly Lona and Nioka, spent a lot of time with her at the hospital. Often Nioka would spend the night and assist with Dorothy’s bathing and dressing in the morning. Usually after church on Sunday some people from the church would come by and would sing some of Dorothy’s favorite hymns with her.

Ros was one of Dorothy’s dearest friends. She had formerly worked as secretary at the St. Andrew’s Foundation which is how she knew Dorothy. After Ros left St. Andrew’s, she kept in touch with Dorothy and would often help her with her banking and shopping. Ros had moved away – she had moved to Canada, in fact. Dorothy still kept in touch by telephone or when Ros was in town visiting. As fate would have it, Ros came to town to visit family just a few days after Dorothy was admitted to the hospital.  When she learned that her friend was on the Palliative Care unit, Ros made it a point to come by to visit while she was in town. Dorothy’s spirits were greatly lifted by Ros’s company.

I worked at the same hospital on a different floor, so I would stop by on my way into work and also after leaving work. On my off days, I was able to spend more time with Dorothy. When arriving in the morning on those days when I didn’t have to be at work, I would always stop by Joe Mugs to pick up coffee on the way. One morning when I arrived with coffee for Dorothy, her pastor, Chris Lamb, was there visiting. Dorothy was happy to get her cup of coffee from the outside, and the conversation naturally shifted to her love of the beverage. Rev. Lamb, commented, “Yes, Dorothy loves her coffee. She is the only one at church who is allowed to bring her coffee into the sanctuary during the worship service. Did you know that, Dorothy?” The pastor looked at me with a wink and a smile, “Yes we made that allowance for Dorothy.”

Sharing Her Story

While Dorothy was on the Palliative Care Unit, she had a copy of her life story which we had worked on together during all of those interviews, and which I had presented to her on her birthday.  Some of her friends had read it before she came to the hospital, and now she had her story there with her which several of the nursing staff read while they were on duty. One nurse commented to me about the remarkable way she had made it through the obstacles and hardships in her life. “It just reminded me,” she said, “that everyone has a story.  




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