I recently went on a patient visit with Pat, a certified nursing assistant (CNA). As a CNA, Pat’s job is to provide personal cares, such as bathing, feeding and light housework. I think this must be one of the most difficult jobs on earth, but Pat vehemently disagrees. In fact, Pat left her job as a successful paralegal to become certified as a nursing assistant because she had such a strong desire to provide hospice care. After tagging along on one of her visits, I can tell you that she has found her calling.
It’s 9 a.m. when we arrive at Helen’s home. Helen* is Pat’s second patient of the day, and there are six more after this one. We are greeted by Helen’s daughter, Heather*, and her handsome little dog, Oscar. Heather and Oscar walk us back to the bedroom where Helen is resting. Oscar has long since accepted Pat into the family; however, I am new and require scrutiny. After I get down to Oscar’s level, compliment him on his good looks and give him a gentle scratch, he allows me access to Helen’s room. Helen is awake and lying comfortably on her bed. She smiles when I greet her and explains that Oscar is her protector. Right on cue, Oscar hops up into the bed.
As Pat begins gathering the supplies she needs for Helen’s “bed bath” she lets her know that the chaplain will be calling to arrange a visit. The day before, Helen had been having a tough day, and Pat knew a chaplain visit would be welcome. Pat spent most of their last visit listening and acknowledging Helen’s concerns. Although Pat did squeeze in Helen’s bath, she understood the personal care Helen needed that day was more about being present than about only being clean.
Before she begins, Pat assures Oscar that she will look after Helen, and helps him off the bed to go and play. She then raises the hospital bed up to begin her care and they discuss the day ahead. Helen decides she will stay in her bedroom today; she is tired from sitting up in the living room the day before. Pat reassures her that it is her choice and then eases Helen into an upright position.
As she begins the bath, Pat asks Helen how she slept the night before. Helen replies that she didn’t sleep well at all, because she had so many dreams. Pat strokes the warm wash cloth up and down Helen’s back and continues quietly talking to her, “What did you dream about?”
Helen describes the dream as “spiritual.” Pat nods her head in encouragement, and then asks if there was anyone special in her dreams. Helen thinks about it for a moment, and answers with a note of surprise in her voice, “Yes. Two of my sisters were in my dream.” Helen’s sisters passed away many years ago. Pat pauses for a moment and shares that many of her patients dream of those who have passed on. The look Pat and Helen exchange during this conversation speaks volumes about the true friendship they have developed.
Halfway through the bath, Pat covers Helen up with the blanket and excuses herself to get fresh warm water, a thoughtful gesture that isn’t lost on Helen. When Pat steps out of the room, Helen looks me straight in the eye and tells me what a blessing Pat has been to her. Pat returns with the water, she completes the bath, applies lotion, brushes Helen’s teeth, dresses her and combs her hair. While I observe these simple tasks, I am struck by how much I take for granted each day I race through my morning routine.
My pondering is interrupted by Oscar, who has started to pace and whimper around the bed. His playtime is over, as is Helen’s bath, so he wants back up on the bed. Pat lowers the bed, gives Oscar a little pat on the head telling him what a good protector he is and then reminds him not to climb on Helen. He seems to understand and snuggles in close to her.
It’s time for Pat to visit her next patient. She gently touches Helen’s hand and leans over her bed to say goodbye. Helen’s appreciation for Pat is clear by the tender look she gives her.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.