05/23/04 — Praise for hospice

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Praise for hospice

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 23, 2004 2:07 AM

When Thelma Mills took her mother to the hospital, it was with the expectation that she would return home when she was released.

Mamie Stanley Taylor had some dementia, had had a stroke and while hospitalized, experienced pneumonia, a staph infection in her hand and wasn't eating. Doctors told Mrs. Mills her mother's prognosis was bleak and gave her less than a month to live.

Kitty Askins Hospice Center was suggested as the best option for the 91-year-old woman. It was not, however, Mrs. Mills' first choice.

"When she went to the hospital, I was totally prepared to take her back home," she said. "I had not thought of putting her in a rest home.

"But she went down so quickly and completely. She could not get out of bed, and doctors had done all they could for her."

She admits that although she had never set foot inside the center, she was apprehensive about it.

"I immediately didn't want to come, because I was always thinking, 'that's the last place you go.' And every time I drove past, I would look the other way," she said.

Having little choice since her mother required more care than she could get at home, Mrs. Mills relied on family support to help make the decision.

"I had a hard time dealing with it," she said. "My son and his friend came out and put her stuff in the room.

"I waited and came in when she came in, and then I had a different feeling about it."

She now says her fears were unfounded.

"It wasn't a dreary, depressing atmosphere," she said. "It was a bright place."

The move proved beneficial to Mrs. Taylor. When she arrived on May 20, 2003, she was placed on the acute hall, but showed such improvement that she was moved to a residential room in June.

She was unable to communicate very well, but Donna Smith, in-patient manager at the center, said Mrs. Taylor's eyes told a lot of stories.

"She had many good months with us," Mrs. Smith said. "Miss Thelma was able to have lots of time with her, and the grandchildren were able to have lots of good times with her."

She called it a case of the "Kitty Askins Syndrome."

"We do have occasions when the diagnosis seems bleak, but if you get good care, you sometimes get better," she said. "Miss Mamie leveled off and did better."

Instead of living only a few weeks as the doctors had predicted, Mrs. Taylor's condition remained stable until November. In December, she was moved back to the acute care hall. A day or two later, on Christmas Eve, she passed away.

Mrs. Mills stayed at the center virtually every day, spending many nights there. But she says she always trusted the staff to look after her mother.

"They were there," she said. "They treated her with dignity and kindness and a lot of love."

At times, the benefits were as simple as giving Mrs. Mills a chance to catch her breath.

"Knowing that the staff was there and she was getting the medical attention she needed, I could take time to stop and think of what was going to happen," she said. "It gives you time to accept what's happening."

She now credits the hospice center she had nearly avoided with helping her family get through some of the difficulties.

"They seem like family to me," she said. "They were part of my mother's last journey in life."

She has returned a few times to visit and thank the staff who helped care for her mother. She also presented the center with a framed picture in memory of her mother. It will be displayed outside the room where Mrs. Taylor spent most of her time while there.

Mrs. Smith said the goal at Kitty Askins is to do whatever possible to provide compassionate care, but agrees it is challenging working with patients who are in their final days.

"We do get attached but in every facet of life you're called for something," she said. "I truly believe that hospice is a calling; it is for me.

"We do whatever we can to keep them comfortable and at peace, and enjoy the last days with their families."

The need for hospice care is growing, she says. Kitty Askins is a small facility, with only 12 rooms and oftentimes a waiting list. By the time there are openings, some of the potential patients have expired, she said.

Mrs. Smith said she hopes that the center and others like it will be able to expand and respond to the increasing needs for the services.