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Karen Rockhill of Malone didn't know what to expect when her grandmother entered end-of-life care.


Karen Rockhill of Malone always knew that someday she would have to say goodbye to her grandmother, Joyce Silveri of Westville. But last year, when Joyce’s lung disease forced her into the hospital, Karen still wasn’t sure how she would cope with her grandmother’s passing.

A long-time smoker who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Joyce, at age 86, was having complications that made her condition worsen the summer of 2018. By mid-September Joyce found herself in Alice Hyde’s Emergency Department and was ultimately admitted to the hospital because she was unable to breathe without the help of an oxygen tank.

As Joyce’s condition worsened and family members gathered at Alice Hyde to be with her during her final days, a team of dedicated registered nurses and aides would oversee her care and help fulfill her final requests. Along the way they would also provide care and comfort to Joyce’s entire family during a 10-day stretch where family members say the team made them feel like the most important people in the world.

“Being a small community, we feel a little bit closer to our patients,” said Claire Robert, RN, a member of Joyce’s comfort care team who has been with Alice Hyde since the 1980s. “Some of them get to be just like family and we try to treat them like we would want our own family to be treated.”

Joyce, like many people, had a list of requests — from wanting her favorite fast food meal (a Big Mac) to making sure she was able to spend time with the most cherished people in her life. One of the last things Joyce requested before her condition rendered her unable to speak was that her beloved dog Benji, a poodle who had been her constant companion for more than 10 years, be allowed to visit her at Alice Hyde. Karen said Benji was more than a pet to her grandmother.

“He was always there; he brought her a lot of comfort and love,” she said. “She felt safe because of him. I think that’s why it was so important to her that he be there.”

Sue McElwain, RN, another member of Joyce’s comfort care team, knew immediately how important Benji was to Joyce as the day before, she had to say farewell to her own dog. The pain of that loss fresh in her mind, Sue was prepared to do whatever it took to ensure Joyce and Benji were reunited as quickly as possible.

“I was going to move mountains to make that happen,” she said. “It’s a family member to them and we were going to make sure she saw her puppy. I told her don’t worry, we’ll bring him to you.”

That’s exactly what the members of Joyce’s comfort care team did. With Benji cleared to join Joyce in the hospital, Sue’s reward was seeing an ecstatic woman reconnecting with her beloved pet.

“Just seeing the smile on her face when that dog was brought into the room and able to sit on the end of her bed it was like, yeah, this is what we had to do,” Sue said. “It was magical seeing that connection.”

Members of Joyce’s comfort care team didn’t just tend to Karen’s grandmother, they took her entire family under their collective wing during Joyce’s final days, said Karen and her mother, Sue McDonald of Brainardsville. One moment that has stuck with Karen was watching Morgan Fountain, RN, strike up a conversation with her father, Michael, Joyce’s son and power of attorney who was struggling with the stress of the situation.

“To watch her (Morgan) pick up on that and just help him . . . It’s not like that was just one day – it was every single day she was here. They made us feel like we were their top priority,” said Karen.

That same compassion found Karen as well, when one team member shared with her a book about end-of-life concerns. As Karen read it, she said, something “clicked” for her.

“I had never seen anything like that before,” said Karen, referring to a loved one’s end-of-life, “and trying to process what I was seeing and experiencing; they helped my grandmother keep her dignity. I think they probably helped me more at that point than anything.”

For the care team, Sue McElwain said, the goal is always to understand not just what the patient needs, but what their entire family needs to help them through the pain and stress of losing a loved one.

“It’s just part of the passion that we have,” she said. “Even dying can be a beautiful, magical thing, if you do it in a way where patients are actually comfortable with what’s happening – and that’s what we do. We help people understand what we need as individuals to help us process.”

For Sue McDonald, Silveri’s daughter-in-law, the most impactful moment came shortly after Silveri’s death on September 17. Earlier that morning family members had gone home briefly, only to learn later that Joyce’s passing was imminent. By the time McDonald and other family members arrived, she was gone. But, McDonald said, she hadn’t been forgotten by the team.

“They told me: ‘She wasn’t alone; we were here with her’,” Sue McDonald said. “That was really important to me.”

Today, the pain of losing her grandmother is still with Karen, but it will forever be linked with the compassion and love she received from every member of her grandmother’s care team at Alice Hyde, which also included: Nurse’s Aide Patty Taylor, Nurse’s Aide Emily Rivera, Respiratory Therapist Marshall Pixley, RN Pam Heath, RN and Med-Surg Divisional Clerk, Alesha Earle.

“I just want to make sure they know that, even though I know they had other patients to care for, they never once made us feel like we were putting too much on them,” said Karen. “Whenever they walked into that room, they took care of all of us and her. We were all their patients.”