Vivian Tipton: Happy birthday, Pops
My dad, a Wyoming native, was born on Nov. 10. He was a high school football star and a Navy veteran of the Korean War. He fathered seven children and embraced five more as a stepparent. My father knew how to have a good time and I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t share that at times it got him in trouble.
I lived within 10 miles of my father my entire life — he was one of my best friends.
Ironically, I started my career at Hospice of the Foothills at the same week my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
After his diagnosis, he spent a few weeks on their “Foothills Palliative Care” program as he came to terms with his disease and its prognosis. This program offered helpful resources as we determined the best plan for an 86-year-old man, who in his words, “had lived a good, whole life.” My dad had watched one of his son’s battle this same disease years earlier and had a clear idea of what he did and did not want for what remained of his life.
His palliative care nurse practitioner was amazed at how strong he was, and I can tell you that made him proud. While on palliative care he was able to fully understand his options and adjust his medications. We had a nurse practitioner advise us about his test results and help him weigh the options of curative care versus hospice care. This smooth passing of the baton between acute care and hospice care was incredibly helpful. It was important for Dad to make these important decisions, but so much was coming at him so quickly.
When the last of the tests were done and the spots on his liver were found, he knew he was ready for hospice.
I am so proud of him. To look at him you would not have thought he was as sick as he was, but he knew, and he wanted to make sure we had adequate support. Once on hospice, his care team took over. His case manager helped us understand the physical trajectory of his disease and ensured that Dad’s desires were known and followed. We had a social worker who helped us work out a schedule so we could all spend quality time with our dad, while at the same time setting aside time for him and his wife. They also knew the importance of recognizing his military service and the honoring his veteran status. His team helped us understand some of his decisions and assured us that they were only a phone call away. They talked with him about everything from his beloved 49ers to his pain and anxiety levels. To witness all of this take place with such compassion was an amazing lesson in patient-centered care.
The weekend before my father died, we hung out, just the two of us. He sat at his desk and paid bills, just like he had done his entire adult life. It took him an hour to write out three checks, but he did it, and because of the guidance of his care team, I knew it was important to let him. He told me he was ready; he had told everyone he loved them, apologized to those he felt he had wronged and he was ready to leave us, he just needed to make sure we were prepared.
He passed away on Feb. 28, 2018, just two months after engaging the support of Hospice of the Foothills.
His entire family was with him, as was his hospice nurse. During his last months he was able to love his family, keep his commitments and take care of his business. He got to be authentically himself and for this I am eternally grateful. It always feels too soon to lose someone you love. The hole in my life that my dad used to occupy aches to my core. Thankfully, I know that he left on his time, in his way.
Almost two years later, I now mentally celebrate my dad’s November birthday simultaneously with National Hospice and Palliative Care month, causing me to reflect on the intersection of these two powerful forces in my life. In my role as executive director at Hospice of the Foothills, I am privileged to experience the patient-centered care this amazing team provides to others in our community at end of life, and I know firsthand what an impact it has.
Vivian Tipton is the executive director at Hospice of the Foothills. She lives in Grass Valley.
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