Kathleen DeCubellis tells the story of her husband's heroic struggle against cancer.
Two and a half years ago my husband Joe and I were going on a dream vacation to Italy. Just before we left, Joe was diagnosed with brain cancer. In a split second our lives went from dreaming of the Roman Coliseum to thinking that Joe had only three months to live. What followed were two years of surgeries, chemo, radiation, Gamma knife, medications, doctors and more doctors, hospitals, alternative medicine, and every type of care we could try.
Joe had recently retired after teaching for 33 years and was looking forward to spending more time with our son, daughter, and two grandsons whom he adored. Being a real handyman, he also anticipated extending a helpful hand to family and friends.
He loved the sea and salt air that surrounded him, understood the force of nature, and believed in the power of prayer and laughter. Even during his illness, he always had a joke for the doctors and nurses.
As time marched on, Joe's health started to fail quickly. For the last eight weeks of his life, I watched my husband's life dwindle. The man who was the love of my life from the time I was 14 years old was about to die.
Although our friends and family did all they could to help him and us, it was the Hospice team at VNA of Care New England that rekindled our "light" to the very end of Joe's life and after his life had ended. Hospice nurses, aides, social workers, and chaplain treated Joe with great dignity and tenderness as though he was the love of their lives.
"My father and I were always very close. Growing up, we shared so many wonderful experiences together. I cannot remember a time when he was not there for me. So, when he was facing a terminal illness and the time came for me to be there for him, I knew that I had to do it, but was not sure how. Thankfully, I had help. Hospice Care of VNA of Care New England gave me the chance to be his son and get to know my father in a way that I never thought possible, something we both needed. Through the years, my father and I had always enjoyed great talks.
As we faced the end of his life together, these talks about faith, hopes, and dreams were at a much different and deeper level. Quietly and expertly, the hospice team cared for all of my father's medical needs, paying attention to every detail, while they encouraged and supported me. This warm and compassionate care allowed us precious time to have these conversations and let our parent-child relationship grow and mature while exploring our thoughts on life, death, and the future. I knew my father's care was in good hands. I will always be grateful to Hospice Care of VNA of Care New England. Thanks to them, the time that my father and I had together at the end of his life was truly an amazing and unexpected gift."
As an avid marathoner, Rick had pounded his knees for more than 25 years. Racquetball, skiing and walking 18 holes on golf courses also added to the stress on his joints. Although his physician had suggested 10 years earlier that he consider having his right knee replaced, Rick hadn't felt ready. He was still active and could tolerate the pain. What prompted his recent decision to undergo joint replacement for his knee was the fact that he could no longer walk comfortably with his wife and their dog. "It seemed like such a simple thing but my knee started to bother me more and more. Walking around the neighborhood just wasn't fun anymore," said Rick.
After two hours of surgery and recovery in the hospital, Rick was ready to go home and get physical therapy to make his new knee strong and steady. Rehab therapy after a knee replacement is intensive. Rick started physical therapy at home the day after he was discharged from the hospital. Beth, a physical therapist in VNA of Care New England's Rehabilitative (Rehab) Therapy Department, drove to his house every other day to treat his knee. With Beth's help, Rick was walking around the main floor of his house on his first day at home. Pain after any joint replacement surgery is generally far greater than any patient expects. Part of a therapist's initial care is to let the patient know that the pain will be short-term. Rick's knee hurt more in the first two days at home than it had at the hospital. Beth convinced him that the pain, although significant, would subside within a few days.
Sure enough, within 3 days, Rick was climbing up and down stairs and taking several short walks inside the house. Learning Rick's expectations and goals for his therapy led Beth to develop a care plan that would guide his recovery in a protected and steady manner. She worked with Rick to increase his ability to bend and straighten his knee, taught him exercises to strengthen his leg muscles, and recommended ways to help him move around the house safely. Rick used the banister on the stairs for support and when he was walking on the flat floor, he used a cane to take some weight off his recovering knee. According to Rick, "Beth was the just right combination of encouragement and caution when I wanted to push myself to do more." After one week, Rick felt well enough to work from his house a few hours a day. Within three weeks, he was strong enough to drive to his office where he worked full days. At that point, Rick no longer needed rehab therapy at home and instead started therapy in an outpatient facility. Although it will be several months before Rick's knee is completely rehabilitated, he's once again enjoying walks with his family.
"When I can walk on my own, I promise to come to VNA of Care New England's office and show everyone." That's the promise of Jose, who on Christmas Day, took a serious fall in his home and suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord.
With the help of physical and occupational therapists from VNA of Care New England who visit his home several days a week, and with the help of his loving wife, Jose has begun his return to life before the accident.
Steve Parenteau, our physical therapist who works with Jose three days a week, marvels at how far Jose has come since the accident that left him unable to stand or move his arms, hands or fingers. Although he still has difficulty getting out of bed without assistance, Jose is regaining the strength in his trunk and legs and is now able to walk with the aid of a walker. And occupational therapy twice a week is helping Jose reclaim the use of his arms and hands that had been "frozen" from the accident.
His appreciation and gratitude for the care he’s received in his home from the rehabilitative therapists of VNA of Care New are summed up in his saying, "They are good people - they are incredible people."
Jose will undergo another surgery to stabilize his spinal cord, but doctors tell him he is strong, and with hard work and rehabilitative therapy, he will continue to improve, and yes, he will once again walk on his own.
Staying at Home and Out of the Hospital Margaret is a woman who was used to living independently until being hospitalized for a cardiac-related disease. Her hospitalization lasted five months, and when she was discharged, she needed visiting nurses to provide skilled nursing care in her home. Although a nurse went to her home twice a week to care for her and her sister lived in the same apartment building, Margaret was somewhat apprehensive about living alone.
Her visiting nurse recognized that Margaret would be a perfect candidate for VNA of Care New England's remote monitoring program. The remote monitoring program involves an in-home monitoring system that is supervised remotely by nurses at the VNA of Care New England's main offices. It supplements the nurse's visits to Margaret's home.
This remote monitoring program is a level above other remote monitoring systems because it has an educational component that helps patients manage their disease and modify their behavior.
Every morning Margaret uses a small electronic monitor to check her vital signs which are then transmitted to the main monitoring system. She also answers a series of questions relevant to her specific medical concerns.
Nurses at VNA of Care New England then examine the vital signs readings and answers to the educational questions. The nurses are able to see certain subtle changes before they become real symptoms. They can also view a two-week memory which provides a history of the machine readings. These readings can be transmitted an emergency room in the event of an emergency and can come in handy when updating her doctor on her history. In fact, the remote monitoring system worked very well for Margaret a few weeks after she was discharged from the hospital when she exhibited an episode of atrial fibrillation, or abnormally quick heartbeat. Nurses at VNA of Care New England were able to observe the abnormal heartbeat and worked with Margaret's doctor to adjust her medications and diet to keep her out of the hospital. "Now I know to watch for that," said Margaret. "Before, the whole thing was new to me." The remote monitoring systems can be used for patients with a wide variety of health concerns, from cardiac-related problems to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to diabetes, and, in the future, mental health disease. Remote monitoring machines can be personalized and come with provisions for the hearing impaired as well as Spanish-speaking patients.