Hooray for hospice

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Nobody knows what the future holds. But for now, hospice is making life infinitely better for Grandma and me.

More than once this year, Grandma has mentioned how lonely she is. She’s lost the ability to read or write emails; even the phone confuses her now. When friends send her a card and I read it to her, she has no idea who sent it.

Now that I work from home to care for Grandma, I feel sort of isolated too. More than once I’ve tallied my daily conversations and discovered I talked to more cats than people. Of course I can walk or drive anywhere I want. But during the work week my best bet is starting a conversation with the Meals on Wheels delivery guy. I know if I bring up KU basketball I can corner him for at least a few minutes.

Luckily for Grandma and me, I finally made progress in my search for caregiving assistance. Because she has a qualifying diagnosis (in her case congestive heart failure with a really long technical medical name I can’t remember), Grandma is eligible for hospice care. With weekly visits from a nurse and a bath aid — plus regular stop-ins from a social worker and clergywoman, Grandma has visitors to look forward to. And even if they’re not here every day, I no longer feel like I’m bearing this burden alone.

Prior to this, my only experience with hospice was when Grandpa died. There was a hospice house in Topeka, and he went there a few weeks before his death. They kept him as comfortable as they could and were very accommodating about visitors at all hours. They couldn’t save his life, but they helped make his final days bearable.

This time around is much different. As I mentioned the hospice employees come to us, which has reduced the number of doctor visits I have to arrange. They provided a hospital bed that we managed to convince Grandma to start sleeping in instead of the ratty old recliner she’s had for years. Her bath aid gives her weekly showers so I no longer have to cajole her into bathing. The nurse even gets her prescriptions delivered. These things may seem trivial, but when you combine them they have made life much easier for me and more pleasant for Grandma too.

Of course my first thought when I realized how great home-based hospice is was that it couldn’t last. The news is deluged with scare stories of Medicare cuts and death panels, so you wouldn’t think something as wonderful as hospice could ever dodge the funding axe. But so far it has. And because Grandma’s diagnosis is for a chronic condition, she’ll be eligible for help for the remainder of her life. I resisted the urge to hug the nurse when she told me this, but only just.

Hospice cannot stop Grandma’s downward dementia spiral. Hiding leftovers in the filing cabinet … stories of being trapped in a non-existent crawl space … accusing me of feeding her table scraps … these are just a few recent highlights of her current mental state. Likewise, hospice cannot reverse Grandma’s heart failure. Her heart is slowly but surely wearing out.

But hospice has reduced the need to take her out of the house, which is a big plus during flu season. And they provide companionship from people who haven’t heard her stories a million times. Most importantly, they enable me to keep her at home a little longer, which is where she wants to be. Here’s hoping I can continue to manage her care with hospice’s help — and that Medicare continues to provide this invaluable albeit somewhat obscure benefit.