For 35 years, Imogene and Charlie Brown would love to "get lost" together. The Zanesfield couple would enjoy long drives exploring the countryside.
"The biggest thing we all enjoyed was just getting in the car and going, nowhere in particular,” said Imogene. “We used to have this deal where we'd come to an intersection and one of us would say, left, right, or straight. And the other person at the next intersection would do the same thing. That's what we did. Just go for a ride. And who knew where we'd end up!”
This summer, the Zanesfield couple with 12 grandkids and nine great-grandchildren found themselves lost someplace they never imagined: navigating the world of terminal cancer after Charlie was diagnosed in June.
“We were slammed all of a sudden with the fact that he had bone cancer,” lamented Imogene. “And they said that it's all over. He was pretty weak and they didn't think he'd be able to go through any type of anything to help get rid of it.
“The hardest thing for us? Giving up our independence. We've never had to ask for help. And when this happened, it was like the sky fell in. Because all of a sudden, we couldn't do things for ourselves.”
That’s when Imogene knew she needed help. Enter Universal Hospice, a United Way funded program of Green Hills Community. The staff at Universal assisted the Browns with in-home care so that Charlie could remain in the comforts of the home he built in 1990.
Medicare guidelines say one must have a terminal diagnosis of six months or less to qualify for Hospice. Situations like cancer, heart disease, dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, MS, ALS, or COPD are common for Hospice referrals and anyone who is near the end stages of these is eligible.
“No one should ever give up hope, and that's not what hospice does,” said Pam Frost, Director of Universal Hospice. “You don’t ‘go on hospice to die.’ But often, people don't get referred until they have a very short amount of time, with days or even hours left after they've been struggling for months. They can come on hospice months before this, and we can help ease their pain, make them more functional, and they can live out their lives with a little more quality.”
Frost’s own mother experienced the compassion of hospice care and she herself served as a nurse with the program for more than seven years. This year, she and her team provided that same compassion for the Browns.
“They took a huge load off of my shoulders by making sure that there's somebody I could talk to,” said Imogene. “And a couple of times, I've had to call when we were in a situation with Charlie where I couldn't help him by myself. Just to know that they're there if I need them. And I have!”
Families find great comfort in the many services Universal Hospice can provide beyond medical care for their ill loved one. A social worker can help with finances or power of attorney documents. A chaplain is available to provide spiritual guidance. Grief groups assist with healing for up to a year after a patient dies.
“We treat the entire family and it's not just when the patient is on hospice, but afterward as well,” said Frost. “Some of the greatest things that happen is that some of those family members become volunteers who then help other patients and families. It's an all-encompassing service.”
“They're just such nice people, and the whole time they're doing their thing, we’d just sit and talk,” said Imogene. “It's just like they're part of the family.”
“You want the family to feel like they're a part of your life and that you're a part of theirs,” said Karen Schlinglof, an RN with Universal Hospice who served the Brown family. “It's not all medical talk. If he's having a good day and his symptoms are well controlled, we talk about the stories about how they've met and stories he's shared from his past.
“We do form a relationship. We're in here a lot sometimes, over several months. And that bond can get very strong. And as much as they say we make a difference in their lives, they make a difference in our lives too. They make us better people. They make us want to keep doing what we're doing.”
Your United Way gift helps provide Hospice care for those with no insurance. Universal admits patients to their care regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
“To know that we have that resource, we never have to feel like our patients aren't going to get everything they need and deserve,” said Schlinglof. “There's never a time I come into a home and feel like I can't provide a treatment option because they can't afford it. Our patients all get the same care across the board, whether they have insurance coverage or not.”