Searching for Solace

I promise that I'm not going to post a million things about my mom's death, but I wrote a lot during her last month, and that was what was on my mind at the time, so there will likely be several more items composed during or related directly to that time as I get around to posting them.  This is one of those things, written shortly after she passed away, a letter I wrote to Solace, the company in charge of the medical equipment the hospice staff and my mom used.
To Whom It May Concern,

I would like to pose a simple, rhetorical question, one that defines the paradigm by which your organization operates and one that should inform every action carried out by your employees:

Do you care for equipment or do you care for families?

Why I ask involves a story that I view as personal, but one that no doubt parallels that of other families under your care as well.  See, my mother was diagnosed with cancer approximately eighteen months before her death.  Her cancer did not respond to treatment.  Surgery removed the initial tumor but not before it had spread to other regions throughout her body.  Chemotherapy and radiation following that had little effect but to perhaps slow the cancer while making her feel tired and physically ill.  She hung on and remained relatively active, though weakened, until the last month of her life.

When it was clear that she would need ongoing medical assistance (i.e., palliative care; she was declared far beyond additional treatment by this time), my father called hospice.  A bed and portable commode were delivered to their home along with oxygen, should she need it.  At this point she began a precipitous decline.  Her memory slipped away from her.  She was often and increasingly unsure where she was or who was around her, though she was always polite to these somewhat familiar strangers just the same.  Though she had been an insomniac much her life, she now slept most hours of the days and nights, interrupted only by either brief periods of lucidity or, conversely, some variety of delusional night terrors from which she could not be aroused without much effort.

Over the course of a few weeks, she gradually lost the energy for even the minimal mobility required to cross the three feet from her hospital bed to the commode next to it, and it fell to us to change her diapers.  She had a nurse and an aide who came throughout the week for bathing and monitoring her progress medically.  I was able to come from out of state on two occasions to stay with my parents for a total of several weeks during this process.  My father took care of her between my visits and those of the staff.  Mom's decline continued daily with a steady loss of function and no clear end to it in sight.  It was a long, slow trip down an unfamiliar stairway in the dark until the abrupt stop when the decline was over.  After nearly fifty years together, my mother passed away and my parents were separated permanently.

Upon my mother's death, her body wasn't even out of the house before I began the process of clearing reminders of her time of illness from my father's bedroom: Unused adult diapers, her oxygen tank, medications, instruments associated with caring for her, etc.  But I couldn't move her hospital bed from the side of my father's.  And because she died on a Saturday, no one from your company was either willing or able to remove the most salient reminder of the most miserable period of their relationship at a time when a grieving husband most needed to begin healing.  As much as I was able to clear away the reminders, my father still had to sleep for the next two nights with an empty bed next to his and to see it first thing the following mornings.  He repeatedly lamented its presence his room and what that reminded him of.

On Monday my father and I left to make funeral arrangements.  It was the early afternoon, and the bed and other equipment still had not been picked up.  I called Solace to determine when a driver would finally be by to put closure to this issue, only to be told it wouldn't be until "between 3 and 5pm."  My aunt (Mom's elderly sister who lived with my parents) remained home during this time and was present when a driver picked up the equipment.  He collected everything and placed it in his truck, but then in the most bizarre twist to this story, he returned a few minutes later to leave the removable bucket portion of the commode and a length of oxygen tubing that was apparently attached to the oxygen.

While I fully understand the rationale behind discarding contaminated elements, they weren't discarded; they were left setting out in my parents' living room.  Considering these items were already brought out to the truck, the driver should have simply assumed responsibility for them.  Instead, he chose to make a special trip to return them to the house after his business was otherwise concluded.  When I returned home with my father and discovered what remained, again I went into action.  I managed to hastily get the tubing into the trash can out of his sight, but the bucket was discovered before I was able to move it outside to the garage.  These last items are minor in the overall scheme, but they too bear upon the question I posed at the top.

I would implore you to implement the follow as policy organization-wide: Please find a way to remove any and all equipment immediately following the death of a patient in your care.  Take responsibility for it and take it away.  I understand the constraints of running a business, but you are one that deals with impending death, something that doesn't take into consideration conventional work hours or the weekend, and it never takes a holiday.  Personnel and transportation should be set aside to ensure that a death on a weekend doesn't result in an on-going reminder of the loss of a loved one for family members already all too aware of the situation they've happened into.


A son.

Copyright 2009 Alexplorer.
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