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Care Dimensions Physician Shares Her Personal Connection to Hospice

Physician Finds Personal Connection to Hospice

Bob and Nancy Otovic met at a Fourth of July carnival in 1948. He was 22, a quiet and reserved World War II Navy veteran. Always smiling, Nancy, 22, was a people-person. They married one year later, settled in Danvers. Over 63 years they raised ten children and welcomed 17 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. For the Otovics, life was full and happy.

When Nancy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the couple had been enjoying retirement – gardening and socializing with friends. Over the next decade, Bob took care of Nancy with tenderness, filling in the gaps and balancing the bad days as Alzheimer’s took its toll. In 2010, it became apparent to their children that the Otovics needed help. In addition to dementia, Nancy suffered from debilitating physical problems, including polymyalgia rheumatica and osteoarthritis. Bob, who had his own chronic pain issues, was tired and finding it increasingly more difficult to care for his beloved wife.

Nancy’s daughter and namesake, Nancy Otovic, MD, made a bold and generous offer. She sold her house and moved back into her childhood home. "I wanted my parents to remain in the house they loved," she said.

Dr. Otovic had recently taken a job with Care Dimensions as a hospice and palliative care physician, following 15 years in family medicine. Juggling her full-time job at Care Dimensions while serving as her parents’ caregiver was challenging for Dr. Otovic. "I’m a hospice physician and I thought I could do it all. It was hard admitting I was struggling," she said. Her mother needed constant help with daily activities such as bathing and eating. She was in a lot of pain. Dr. Otovic turned to her colleagues at Care Dimensions for their end-of-life clinical expertise and compassion to help her care for her mother.

"The biggest challenge is letting people in your house," said Dr. Otovic. "It can feel invasive. As a physician, I felt the same as everyone else. And I battled about the decision with my dad who was resistant to outside help. I told him, ‘I need to start being a daughter and you need to be a husband again.’ We needed more help." she said.

"The hospice team became our second family and another set of eyes for me," said Dr. Otovic. "Dr. DePodesta recommended pain medication, our nurse watched for side effects and our hospice aide became like a sister to me. She was cheerful and so patient with my mom."

After Nancy fell and broke a vertebrae in her back, she was admitted to the Kaplan House for its hospital-level care. Three weeks later at age 85, she died. "She was comfortable and at peace," said Dr. Otovic. "The hospice team there was so supportive."

Bob began receiving hospice care a few years after his wife died when his health began to decline rapidly. "His life wasn’t the same without her," said Dr. Otovic. Care Dimensions assembled the original team and they resumed their place at the Otovics' home. This time, it was an easy transition for Bob who felt he was welcoming old friends. He even consented to massage therapy for pain relief. After a fall at home, Bob was admitted to the Kaplan House for pain and symptom management. He passed away quietly there, four days before his birthday on June 24, 2013.

Dr. Otovic speaks from the heart and from experience when extolling the virtues of hospice care. She says hospice has changed her life forever. "I will never leave this wonderful profession," she said. "Hospice makes a difference in the world. We manage pain, mend fences and bring people together. Hospice is not hope for a cure, but hope for comfort and dignity. And, at the end of life, that is what is most important."

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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