Senior Hospice Aide Assumptah "Summie" Mwai
Working as a hospice certified nursing assistant for over 16 years has been a rewarding and humbling experience that has taught me valuable life lessons.
While every patient is different, my work with one man six years ago left lasting impressions.
On a Friday afternoon, I was near the end of my Care Dimensions shift at a nursing home and assigned a hospice patient named Joe to start with on Monday. I decided to introduce myself to Joe in advance of starting with him after the weekend. Joe was very angry about his prognosis and about his life. He was a successful Jewish lawyer from Boston who was very busy and never made time for his doctors’ appointments, and when he did, the results were disappointing. He was separated from his wife and had not seen or talked to her in three years.
Confronting anger with compassion
When I came to work on Monday morning, I was given report about Joe’s behavior and notified that he banned everyone from going into his room. He had been admitted to the nursing home at the start of the second shift on Friday, and somehow, they had already signed meal cards for dinner and overlooked his religion and dietary restrictions. Apparently, that evening dinner was pork chops. When Joe was served dinner, he threw his dinner tray at the wall and broken dishes fell to the floor. He cursed and yelled at the staff. He refused to be attended to, refused to take his meds, and would not allow anyone to visit him -- even his family.
I chose to go see him. I knocked and with a big smile and pleasant personality reintroduced myself. He didn’t respond. He was in a private room and it was in a big mess, dark and foul smelling. The curtains were drawn, and lights turned off. He had thrown his wet and dirty clothes and linen all over the floor. His bathroom floor and toilet were also a mess.
I stooped low on my knees, looked him in his eyes and held his hand. I apologized for what happened on Friday evening and explained my role was maintaining his dignity and well-being and making sure he was as comfortable as possible and pain-free.
I politely explained to him that he was still the same successful lawyer who took great pride in his looks and hygiene. I asked for his permission to open the curtains and windows and then I got a cart and picked up all the dirty linen and trash. I handed him his electric shaver and let him shave himself. I then asked him to choose his clothes for the day and helped him take a much-needed shower. I cleaned and made his bed with clean linen. I asked him to allow housekeepers to clean his room.
I had noticed he was in pain and was lethargic. I convinced him to take his pain meds to keep him comfortable. I offered to bring him breakfast, but he requested just milk, toast, and butter. I brought it for him, as well as a fresh pitcher of cold water.
Better days with hospice care
After my breakthrough with Joe that day, he and I became good friends and he always looked forward to my visits. I was able to convince Joe to let his family visit. They resolved their differences and Joe and his wife forgave each other. His wife would visit and spend all day with him. We would take Joe outside in a wheelchair for walks and some fresh air and bask in the sun and listen to music by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Joe was in my care for six months. He passed away on a Saturday night in my absence, but I got to say my goodbyes the day before because I knew he was actively dying.
Joe was able to overcome his anger and denial, was more accepting of his prognosis, and made the best of his time. My compassion, empathy, and respect to treat Joe for who he was, allowed him to live in dignity and made a big difference. I found contentment in making a positive impact on his journey.
My job as a hospice CNA is very demanding and can be stressful, but it’s also rewarding. Caring for Joe taught me some important lessons:
- We take our lives for granted and should appreciate our lives more and better.
- Take care of your body and health, and do not wait until you get sick to realize how valuable your health is.
- It’s never too late to make a difference in another person’s life. Giving Joe my time, undivided attention and caring brought him so much joy and comfort till the very end of his life.
- Kindness, empathy, and compassion can positively impact a grieving patient, family and loved ones.
- Establishing and developing a trusting relationship is valuable.
- Be respectful and mindful of others’ cultural and traditional practices, beliefs, needs and assurances.
- It’s incredibly difficult to lose one’s independence and rely on others for help.
- There’s power in forgiveness and letting go of anger.
- Too often we value material things and ignore the importance of family and loved ones.
- Life is too short!
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About the author
Assumptah “Summie” Mwai is a senior hospice aide with Care Dimensions. This article was adapted from her winning application for the Compassionate Service Award presented by the Hamel-Lydon Chapel & Cremation Service of Massachusetts.