Phelps Hospice: More than I could ever have imagined

In early October, when my husband, David Kornreich, was hours away from death, the hospice aide pulled back his covers to show me that his hands were clasped peacefully, one over the other on his abdomen, in a state of perfect repose. “Did you arrange them like that?” she asked. “No,” I replied, “did you?” Neither of us had, which meant that David had brought them together himself in a way that spoke eloquently of his readiness to die.

Just one month earlier, we had kept an appointment with an oncologist at Sloan-Kettering, at which time chemotherapy was scheduled to begin. In the course of our conversation, David asked the doctor, “Given my current condition, what are the chances that chemo would be successful?” She said, “About twenty percent.” We looked at each other and agreed that those were lousy odds. He declined the therapy, knowing full well what that meant.

From Sloan, we went directly to the Phelps Hospice office at the James House and signed the papers necessary to give them responsibility for his care. Knowing that he was already weakened from surgery and radiation, I felt a huge sense of relief that he wouldn’t have to suffer through chemotherapy.  All he said was, “Now we can get on with the dying.” 

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It turned out that David’s openness about the fact that he didn’t have long to live was a great gift to me, to our children and to our friends. It allowed us to be honest with him, to have
real conversations with him and to let him know how much he meant to us.

What we couldn’t have known was the untold number of ways that Phelps Hospice would support us, dealing openly and honestly with the situation we were facing. From that first day on, they were always there for us, at every hour of the day or night, providing comfort, care, support and helpful information as we took this last journey together.

In orienting us to “being on hospice,” the nurses and social workers who came to the house made one thing very clear – we were to call hospice first, no matter what the problem or the need or the hour. Things started happening like magic. A hospital bed was installed upstairs, oxygen tanks appeared in the front hall, nurses came every other day or more, health aides trained by hospice provided loving personal care, and medications and nursing supplies were delivered to our door.

Basically, hospice lifted the burden and the stress of having to coordinate David’s care off my shoulders. We were able to relax in those last few weeks and just be together, with visits from friends and family that meant a lot to both of us.

Because members of the hospice team were so experienced and knowledgeable about the process of dying, they could help us understand what was happening and what we should anticipate. They made it possible for David to have a good, peaceful death in the comfort and ease of our home, and for this I will always be grateful.

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One of the great strengths of Phelps Hospice is the way in which they help meet the needs of the entire family. We were visited by the hospice chaplain and the social worker, as well as being offered massage, Reiki and counseling.  

Since David died, I’ve been surprised to learn that the hospice experience doesn’t quit. Various staff members have called to see how I am doing, and I’ve received helpful mailings about
coping with grief.  In December, I joined hundreds of families at the hospital for the annual “Tree of Lights” event, at which points of light are lit in memory of all departed loved ones. As I write this, I am looking forward to joining a bereavement support group which hospice offers to everyone in the community.  

I encourage readers who are facing an end-of-life situation to get in touch with hospice as early as possible. Believe me, it will be more than you could ever have imagined.

 

Founded over thirty years ago, Phelps Hospice stands at the heart of the compassionate care Phelps Hospital is known for.  Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans, but services at Phelps are never denied for financial reasons. To learn more, go to www.phelpshospital.org/clinical-services/hospice/or call 914-366-3325.

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