Giving the gift of dying on their own terms, hospice nurse helps patients and families

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Nurses Week 2019

This week is a special week on Medical Watch. WGN News is honoring the unsung heroes of medicine — nurses. From cancer treatments to rehabilitation, we tackle memory care and end of life.

As Nurses Week closes out, WGN News looks at the end of life and perhaps the most challenging task of all — helping loved ones give their sick relatives the gift of dying on their own terms. Hospice nurses hold their hands, realizing their patients are not the only ones in their care.

Like most healthcare professionals who care for patients at home, Molly Davies, a RN, CHPN at AMITA Health Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care, starts her shift on the road. She said it was her mother who drove her toward a career in nursing.

"Just seeing what a difference she made in those people’s lives, I wanted to kind of do something like that, too,” she said.

And while her mom took care of babies and children, Davies chose the other end of the spectrum — hospice care.

“It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” Davies said.

Linda Ward grew up in the house in which she now cares for her father, John, a lifelong CTA worker. He was a big guy with a big heart, who now has dementia.

“I just always remember as a kid my father said, ‘Please don’t ever put me in a nursing home,’” Ward said. “And I wanted to honor that because my father is a good man.”

“It’s not just going into Patient 202, it’s not that. You’re going into someone’s home,” Davies said. “And you’re seeing all their things, their family on the walls around you. Their pets greet you at the door. It’s more intimate, and you really get to know the person beyond being a patient. You connect.”

“Unfortunately, my dad isn’t able to move,” Ward said, “So he sits in bed all day, all night.”

“I do get attached to my patients, it’s hard not to. I’m only human,” Davies said.

Davies has been making regular visits to Ward and her father for two years.

“I’ve been there from Day 1,” she said. “He’s a good guy. I think there’s often a misconception that people sign on to hospice, and they are going to give up, wither away and be gone very quickly. And sometimes people do decline very quickly. He’s one of the handful of long-length-of-stay patients that came home and thrived a little bit, even though he’s had a lot of problems along the way.”

John’s limbs are rigid now and his lack of movement puts him at great risk for bed sores.

“Families are the primary caregivers, so a huge part of my job is teaching them,” Davies said.

“Molly, my nurse, takes care of everything for me. She comforts me, she educates me,” Ward said.

The work can be rigorous, at other times more routine. Every day is different and some days are better than others.

“When my dad does decide to die, he’s going die peacefully,” Ward said.

“We just try to bring him as much comfort and do what we can. We can make a difference, make somebody’s day a little bit better or their last days a little bit better,” Davies said. “It’s so rewarding, unbelievably rewarding.”

Hospice nurses like Davies are the unsung heroes of the most difficult days.

More on WGN's coverage of Nurses Week 2019

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