When Personal and Professional Worlds Collide

During my concentration year at GSSW, I have been interning at a hospice/palliative care agency. As part of my training as a palliative care social work intern, I have learned about end-of-life issues, advance directives (e.g., a living will), and the components that go into good hospice care.  When I accepted a position at my field placement, I had no idea that my work there would so strongly affect my personal life in a few short months.

Last September, my grandfather was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Though he made initial improvements with the help of chemotherapy, the tumors initially present only in his chest cavity spread throughout his body. He spent most nights during late January and early February painfully coughing up blood.

About two weeks ago, I received a call from my grandmother. She told me that grandpa had decided that though he put up a good fight, he could no longer fight his illness. It was time to look for appropriate hospice care. My intuition told me I needed to go home to assist my family with this difficult decision.  I drove back to St. Louis on Friday, February 8.

My grandmother, aunt, fiancé, and I met with the hospice team affiliated with a local hospital the next morning. I was grateful for my knowledge of hospice as the admission nurse reviewed the process of end-of-life care. Before interning at my organization, I would have been frightened by the idea of hospice. I might have believed many of the myths surrounding end-of-life care. Instead, I knew that hospice was a comfort-based option for individuals who no longer wanted to pursue curative treatment.

I had enough knowledge about hospice to ask key questions about the kind of care my grandpa would receive. Based on my field experiences, I felt that this hospice team could offer my grandpa a high level of comfort. My aunt and grandma agreed. Grandpa moved into the hospice house later that day.

When we arrived at the hospice house, grandpa seemed immediately calmer. He was finally able to get the pain medicine and care he needed. Grandpa slept for over four hours for the first time in months. He was able to see all of the people he loved over the next few days. Grandpa tied up his loose ends, pain-free. It was a gift to watch him enjoy his last few days on Earth. He died on Wednesday, February 13, in the middle of the night. His passing was peaceful.

I am grateful for the knowledge and support imparted to me by my agency. Not only were staff members very understanding that I needed to take time off to be with family, but they provided me with much-needed grief support when I returned. My first week back has been difficult, but thanks to this new connection between my professional and personal self, I am confident that I will be able to appropriately grieve my loss in a supportive environment.