Experiencing Hospice Care as Family Members Inspired Nurses to Provide Care to Others in Their Community
Bladen/Columbus team members Megan Cartrette and Dawn Priest both understand what it is like to be a hospice family member in addition to being a case manager. Megan once was experiencing both simultaneously.
Both ladies say they had only limited knowledge of hospice care before a family member needed it, even though they worked as hospital nurses.
“I knew the basics,” Dawn said, “just not the details.”
For Megan, her grandfather was to be discharged home from a skilled care facility. He had a serious lung condition and she was unsure how her father and aunt would be able to manage his care at home.
Megan reached out through social media for advice. Nancy Benton, then a nurse at LCFL, reached out and asked if Megan knew about hospice care. Megan admitted she knew about hospice care because it was offered in the hospital but that her knowledge was limited.
Instead of being transferred home, Megan’s grandfather was taken to Angel House Hospice Care Center in Whiteville where he later died.
“They made the unbearable, bearable,” she said.
Three months later, Nancy called her about an open case manager position with LCFL. She didn’t know if Megan would be up for the job so soon after her grandfather’s death but felt Megan was a perfect fit for it.
“I loved my job at the hospital,” Megan said. “But the 12-hour shifts weren’t the best for my family life. I thought I would apply. I interviewed and have been here ever since.”
Dawn’s mother was diagnosed with Stage-4 small-cell lung cancer in 2010. In 2013, when her mother’s oncologist said her mother wasn’t responding to treatment anymore, hospice care was not even mentioned as an option for care. When Dawn started picking up on cognitive issues her mom was starting to exhibit, she was unsure as to where to turn but knew she needed help.
Dawn’s cousin by marriage worked with Lower Cape Fear LifeCare at that time and she started asking her for advice. “That’s when I found out about community referrals,” Dawn said.
Dawn was glad she made the referral herself to get her mother the care she desperately needed and the support that could make a difference in all their lives.
“Unfortunately, mom had a short length of stay on hospice,” Dawn said. “About six weeks, I think.”
A month or so after her mom’s death, Dawn ran into Megan Cartrette a lifelong friend with whom she also attended nursing school. She had heard Megan had left her job at a local hospital to work with Lower Cape Fear LifeCare and asked how the new job was going.
“When we were in nursing school, you knew if you wanted to be a hospice nurse you wanted to work for Lower Cape Fear [LifeCare],” Dawn said. “It was hard to get a job there because they didn’t have many openings. Megan suggested that I put in an application.”
“During the interview,” Dawn continued. “I was asked if I thought I was worried about being able to handle the job so soon after my mom’s death as things can get to you.” Dawn felt sure that she could and was eager to help others like her family had been helped.
“I felt it was my calling. I love it. Not that people have to get sick and die, but I’m glad to be able to help,” she added
Megan said her experience as a hospice family member has given her a greater understanding of how important her job is.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be allowed to be part of someone’s life at this time in their life,” Megan said.
Megan loves her patients, many of whom she knows from having grown up in the area, having cared for other family members, or because they know someone in her family. She enjoys it when her patients share stories and memories about her family members. It gives her and them an opportunity to laugh, which she feels is important at this time of life.
As much as she loves her patients, Megan has a special place in her heart for her teammates.
In fact, it was Dawn who was there to help her friend Megan as her mother’s nurse case manager.
A little over a year ago, Megan’s mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had been treated for lung cancer two years before. Doctors believed they had removed it all and were convinced it hadn’t spread.
“I knew how this was going to go,” Megan said. “She was going to die.”
Her first instinct was to get her mother enrolled in palliative care as soon as possible. However, it was determined that hospice care was the appropriate based on her prognosis.
“I was so afraid my family was going to think I was giving up on my mom,” Megan said tearfully. “I knew my team members could educate my family from a different perspective than I could, and I had to rely on them.”
“They became whatever I needed them to be,” Megan added, describing how care teams best help all their hospice patients and families.
“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” she said repeatedly.
It became hard for her mother to swallow her crushed up pain medicines and Megan knew it was time to switch to liquid morphine. Her family was very reserved about making the switch, but her teammates talked them through it.
“I was so thankful,” she said. “Mom wasn’t suffering anymore.”
In fact, her mom only suffered pain that one day when the medications were being switched.
“She wanted to be at home,” Megan said. “Her care team made that possible.”
“Knowing her [Megan] as long as I did, and her mom, it was difficult – but still, an honor,” Dawn said of being Megan’s family’s nurse case manager. “One of the most difficult times in life is dealing with the loss of a parent. I was glad I could support her in that way.”
Dawn and Megan continue to provide superior care to our patients and families. Bringing their passion for patients, families, and our mission to work with them every day.
Dawn recently transitioned to a on call position.
“I can give back what I had been given in my time of need – being able to support families like we were supported,” Dawn said.
Even on days when it gets rough, Megan says she’s not ready to give it up because she has seen both sides of hospice care and knows how important her job is to the people whose lives she touches every day.
“I want to retire as a hospice nurse,” Megan concluded.