Multidisciplinary Team of Memorial Employees Help Grant Patient’s Dying Wish

At Memorial, our Nursing Team of more than 1,000 registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nursing techs, certified nurse assistants (CNAs) and unit secretaries work together to provide every patient with high-quality, compassionate care while aiming to help them meet their health goals.

This week, Nursing Team Week, we salute our Nursing Team throughout our health system. The story below, originally published in 2009 in Memorial’s employee newsletter, is one example of how our team works together to help create great patient experiences along the entire continuum of care, including in the waning moments of life.

Doris Burke was ready to go home.

It was summertime in 2009. In and out of nursing homes and hospitals for seven straight months, the octogenarian from Chatham missed her flower garden and was tired of the restricted lifestyle she had acquired from problems related to heart failure.

In June, Doris confided to Maria Fischer, a now-retired registered nurse for Memorial Medical Center and healthcare assistant to Mark Hansen, MD, Memorial Physician Services, that she wasn’t sure how much longer she wanted to live in her current state. Following a heart valve replacement surgery at a medical facility in another state in January 2009, Doris had woken up on a ventilator and later learned she would never be able to live without it.

“She said that things hadn’t turned out the way she had wanted them to,” Fischer said. “She hadn’t been back home in months, and she really just didn’t know how long she wanted to do this. We talked to her pulmonary doctor, Jon Mann, MD, and he kind of talked to Doris and her family and said, ‘This is the way life is going to be. She is never going to get off the ventilator.’”

A month later, in late July, Fischer encountered Doris again when she was re-admitted to MMC for heart failure.

“I met her in the ER and her first words to me were, ‘I’m done,’” Fischer said.

Fischer asked Doris, a married mother to three grown children — including longtime MMC engineering electrician Mark Burke — what she wanted to do, and Doris’ request was clear: She wanted off the ventilator, and to go home to see the flowers blooming in her garden before she passed.

Granting Doris’ wish wouldn’t be easy. It was very likely she wouldn’t make the trip home without some respiratory assistance, so Fischer and a team of caregivers — including those on MMC’s 2E-Medical nursing unit, Respiratory Therapy, EMS Transport and Memorial Home Services Hospice — had to come up with a solution that would get her home without a ventilator assisting her.

Within three days, the group came up with a plan that everyone – especially Doris and her family – was happy with.

“She was jubilant,” Fischer said. “She was so excited about going home. That’s all her children wanted – they wanted to see her go home.”

Fischer last saw Doris when she left the hospital via ambulance with the assistance of a transport team that included Emergency Department registered nurse Carla Richards and respiratory therapist Doug Wuellner, who helped Doris breathe the whole way home with a squeeze bag.

Helping both Doris and her family transition home was Lora Wyatt, an admissions nurse with Memorial Home Services’ Hospice.

“We took her onto her porch, where she could see her garden,” Wyatt said. “Some of her family members picked flowers for her so she could see them up close.”

After Doris had seen her garden, Wuellner removed the bagging device and set her up on oxygen, and Wyatt stayed for a few hours to make sure Doris was as comfortable as possible while she visited with family. She died several hours later.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” Wyatt said. “It was just like a death should be. She lived until the very last minute. … It was very moving.”

Mark Burke, who was with his mother along with his two sisters, Sarah Cantrall and Virginia Cook, said Doris was very happy to be home surrounded by family and was able to say goodbye to everyone without feeling too much pain.

“She just felt real good. It was about as nice as anyone could want,” said Burke, who has worked at Memorial for 35 years and remarked that he is honored to be part of an organization full of employees who are driven to “do the right thing for the patients and for each other.”

Fischer, who received the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nursing in December 2009 in part because of her role in Doris’ care, agreed.

“This was just a phenomenal example of how you can make a great patient experience by working together,” she said. “By Hospice working on what they did, the transport team doing more than they’ve ever done, the case manager – this was not one individual person but an effort by everyone to make Doris’ wish come true.”

 

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