The Death Professional

I was assigned my first hospice patient about this time of year, green tulip shoots were trying to push through the last of the spring slush, the sun felt weak and gave little warmth.

I won't give her real name, Susan will do. She was old enough to have children in college. She had a strong personality, didn't want help with most things that I was there to help her with. The cancer in her ovaries and the poisonous treatments left her skeleton-thin, feeble, shaky.

I was there to help her take showers, change clothes, make the bed, the routine stuff that was becoming a time consuming chore now. The first few visits, I stood outside the shower, handing her a washcloth or soap from around the curtain. She dressed in there too, modestly hiding behind the shower curtain.

As the weeks went by, gradually she let me help her more. One day, she said she was so nauseated and tired, could I give her a bed bath just this once?

She never got in the shower again.

One day, she pointed to a group portrait a friend from work had brought her. I studied the picture, but I couldn't pick her out of the crowd. None of the faces resembled this gray bony woman huddled under the quilt.

She decided dying at home was too much  of a burden for her family. She wanted to go to our inpatient hospice home. I arrived one morning to find her living room filled with family and friends from out of state. I knocked on her bedroom door, she was in there, alone.

"Are you going this morning?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Are you all packed?"

"I don't know what to take, no one asked me," she said, huddled in bed, hugging her knees.

I gathered her pajamas, her toothbrush, socks, and the group photo into a small suitcase.

"The ambulance will be here soon. Should I go now or stay with you?' I asked.

"Stay. Please stay. All those people downstairs are afraid of me. They don't know what to say to me. You're the Death Professional, you don't treat me weird," she said.

I waited with her until the ambulance pulled up, I gathered her things as they bundled her in a heavy blue blanket,the paramedics carefully guiding the yellow stretcher down the staircase. She waved a weak hand and gave me a tired smile as they closed the ambulance doors, then we both left her house for the last time.


Debra Condren

Marci, this post gave me the chills, especially the last part of your last sentence, "...then we both left her house for the last time." My father is at home on hospice car now. The packing metaphor grabs the heart. Your patients are blessed to have you.

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