Op-Ed : Hospice - a unique opportunity to help
Most of us wash-ashores come to the Vineyard to be near family, get a good job, or simply to enjoy the richness of Island itself. I came for all those reasons, but I stay here because of things that were not quite so obvious when I first arrived.
It seems there's always something lurking around the corner here on this little rural Island ready to suck me in. I was first lured by Island Health Care in Edgartown, where I worked as a nurse practitioner for four years. It's a little gem of a place that puts primary health care ahead of profit. The other was the Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group, that actually gives away real money to help Islanders cope with cancer. With great regret, I am winding down from these two selfless organizations to pursue what I think is the tastiest bait on the Vineyard, Hospice of Martha's Vineyard.
When they asked me to join the board, I never looked back. I have hospice in my veins. I knew hospice from both sides, inside and out, first as the clinical director for a hospice in the Boston area and then when my husband was dying from lung cancer. I knew firsthand insatiable grief and despair, pain and comfort, loss and recovery. And I know what it takes to make it work.
When the wheels fall off, when your world seems as if it's coming to an end, not just anyone or anything can get you or your loved one to where you're going. It takes a team that helps you look ahead to what you fear most. It's a team that can offer comfort in a terribly uncomfortable situation. This is the oxymoronic challenge of hospice workers, to help people live while they are dying.
Certainly, only those who have experience can work in the hospice setting, dedicated social workers and bereavement counselors who know how to suspend their own expectations, volunteers who do far more than hold hands, and nurses who take a back seat to the needs of patients and their families. Anyone who has been called to this work knows the difference between acute care and end-of-life care. One cannot do both.
I went to my first Hospice of Martha's Vineyard board meeting last week. I had no idea what to expect. I just knew the reputation of the hospice. It was their annual meeting, so everyone involved in the hospice turned out. It was held in the big conference room at the Congregational Church in West Tisbury, and it was jammed. So many dedicated people in one room. I was overwhelmed.
In addition to the traditional annual meeting agenda, there were letters from families of patients whom the hospice nurses, clergy, social workers and volunteers have served. These letters of gratitude made it all tangible. I felt as if I had come full circle.
Whether or not Hospice of Martha's Vineyard becomes Medicare-certified, in my reading of the 2008 budget I saw they are holding expenses down while continuing year after year to serve the needs of their clients. For instance, there is a fund called the Christopher Fund that helps patients and families with financial needs pay for medicines, equipment, even fuel oil. The few paid employees offered to forego pay increases this year. There's more, but to summarize the five-page report, they are clearly fiscally responsible.
So this wash-a-shore will stay here, reveling in the sunshine of a new endeavor, meeting new friends with a common goal: to bring comfort to those who need it most, to put the wheels back on and keep the wagon rolling for just a little longer. There's always something wonderful to discover here on our little Island, and Hospice of Martha's Vineyard is one of them.
Lin DeYoung has masters degrees in nursing and public health, and she is an accredited nurse practitioner. She is a member of the board of Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, but she explains that her essay was not written on behalf of the board.