Family: Being There Matters
Early this year we transported a patient from New York to Ohio. She was an older woman who wanted to be with her family during the last period of her life. I want to share the story with you because it’s a really poignant reminder, for me, of how special family is. And it reminds me that, in addition to getting our patients access to the medical care they need, one of the services we provide is reuniting patients with their families. Because being there matters. (It matters for the medical reasons I’ve written about, and it matters for the memories we get to make.)
It’s the niece of our patient, Elizabeth, who has so graciously shared with us her Aunt Frances’ journey since we transported her in an air ambulance to Ohio on January 8th, the day after her 88th birthday. Elizabeth and her family in Ohio had spent most of Christmas Day last year trying to find out where Frances had been sent after the hospital she was staying in discharged her. Turns out she was sent to what Elizabeth refers to as a “horrible” nursing home.
A few weeks after we safely transported Frances to be reunited with her family in Ohio, Elizabeth sent us a note thanking us for our help. “My dad wanted me to convey his gratitude for your help in what we all believe was saving the life of his sister.”
This July Elizabeth e-mailed us and said that after spending several months in rehab, Aunt Frances moved into an assisted living facility close to several members of the family. It was a difficult adjustment at first (Frances had lived independently for 65 years in Manhattan) but she did adjust and was able to enjoy the “sweetest aspects” of being with family. Her nephew and his wife had a baby boy (“the cutest thing on earth”) who, Elizabeth said, “probably came a little early just to be sure he got to meet his great auntie.”
In July, Elizabeth said, “We're not certain how long we'll have with Frances (she is on hospice now), but it is such a blessing to travel this part of the journey with her. That would not have been possible without the good work you do. Thank you once again, and if you have a chance, please let me know how everyone there is doing.”
Last week, we got another note from Elizabeth, this one bittersweet. She wrote:
I wanted to let you know that my Aunt Frances passed away last Friday. Her final two weeks were at a hospice inpatient facility, and she was not fully conscious during that time but I think she knew that we were there. On my last visit, I arrived just 15 minutes after she died. Fortunately, the chaplain was there, and she told me that Frances slipped away very softly. When I saw her, she looked truly at peace, with a gentle smile on her lips.
So, we've come to the end of a long, and sometimes exhausting, chapter in our family. There's work to do to settle her affairs, and we're looking forward to honoring her life with a memorial service in a couple of weeks; then we will have a lifetime of memories to cherish.
We were blessed to have the opportunity to share this part of Frances's journey, even the hardest days, and I want to thank you once again for everything you and your colleagues did that made it possible. It really is comforting to know that help appears when you need it most, from strangers who become friends.
It really is.