Checking off a hospice patient’s bucket list

Caring for communities

John was a quiet man – that is until you got to know him. A retired psychology professor, he was happy to talk and gave great words of wisdom. Although he loved listening to others, he struggled with his own mental health.

John went from living a completely independent life to needing help accomplishing the simplest of tasks due to a life-limiting illness. This lifestyle change made him lose his desire to live, and he expressed that bluntly to DeAynne, the Enhabit Home Health & Hospice social worker who cared for John.

Although John was struggling with his situation, he told DeAynne that he looked forward to their visits. Each time DeAynne arrived, he would pause and say with the sincerest gratitude, “I am so glad you are here.”

Hospice patient John’s bucket list

Since John was considered a high-risk patient, DeAynne got to meet with him weekly to monitor his mental health status. These visits quickly became the favorite part of the pair’s weeks.

“John spent a lot of time alone during the COVID-19 pandemic,” DeAynne said. “He was a man that needed more human interaction. When visiting, I would always sit at the edge of his bed and hold his hand. This small gesture and the oxytocin it produced was very important to him after so long of no human contact.”

DeAynne worked with John to process his emotions each week. Little by little, John opened up and shared his concerns, worries and dreams. DeAynne was even able to help John reestablish a relationship with his estranged son.

As she provided that human interaction and support, along with the care from the rest of the Enhabit team, she saw John’s demeanor change. His depression and anxiety risks decreased and his trust and smile slowly returned.

Then one day, after John’s spirits were on the rise, he asked DeAynne if she’d like to hear about his bucket list.

“Of course, I’d like to hear your bucket list, John,” DeAynne said, making time for an extended visit and conversation.

“I always wanted to see the Northern Lights,” John started. “I suppose that isn’t going to happen now.”

“And, I guess I always wanted to learn to ride a horse,” he continued. “My friends, they used to have horses, but now they have ponies, so I go and feed them apples and that will have to suffice.”

“And finally, I always thought I would golf, but I never did. I’m not sure why. That’s not such a long list. I guess I should have done more with my life,” he finished.

DeAynne went home that night with one thought spinning around her head – how could she make this happen for John?

“It seemed like a thought that was crazy, but it soon became a team effort,” she said.

And on Nov. 16, 2022, they completed hospice patient John’s bucket list.

Checking items off of John’s bucket list

DeAynne and the Enhabit team had to get creative. First, they knew John wouldn’t be able to walk along a golf course as he had to use a wheelchair to get around. So, they brought the golf to John.

The team set up an indoor golf mat and presented John with a putter, a golf hat and three golf balls – to which John proceded to make a hole-in-four.

Next, the team knew a horse ride would be much too rough on John’s body. So, they went with the next best option – a virtual reality headset and a stick pony.

“When we put the virtual reality glasses on John, he was confused and we were a little worried about what it might do for his dizziness,” DeAynne said. “After we explained what was happening, he really enjoyed it and even said the horse ride was too calm!”

While John was virtually experiencing his horseback riding dream, DeAynne ran into John’s bathroom to set up the grand finale: a projector that was programmed to display the colors of the Northern Lights.

The final bucket list item

“John knew the last item on his bucket list was to see the Northern Lights and he told us he wasn’t sure how we were going to do that,” DeAynne said.

She brought him into the bathroom, turned off the lights and let him soak up the brilliant colors of the Northern Lights. John was speechless at first and then overcome with excitement and awe.

The team also gifted John with canvas paintings of the Northern Lights, painted by the child of an Enhabit nurse. He was so excited that he immediately started pointing out where he wanted to hang them in his room, DeAynne said.

“While this is definitely not the same as being in-person, John is a simple man that was so grateful for the thought and effort that was put into this experience for him,” DeAynne said. “He kept asking ‘why would you do this for someone like me’?”

And at the end of the day, John felt the happiness that he’d struggled to experience for so long.

“I think that was worth living for today,” he said.

One hospice patient’s bucket list creates a domino effect

After all the commotion of the day was said and done, the Enhabit team took a moment to stop and think about the incredible thing they had just made happen.

“We all joined in a group hug at the end of the hall,” DeAynne said. “Making this happen for John bonded us emotionally and rejuvenated who we are as a team and what our goals are. We go through the motions of each day in our jobs. This made us step back and look at why we do what we do.”

And they would have never completed a hospice patient’s bucket list without each person’s compassionate contributions and Enhabit’s promise to provide a better way to care.

“John’s bucket list became a collaborative effort and it is one that we are all going to remember for a long time to come,” DeAynne said. “I was excited to fulfill his dreams, even for a moment in time. This is why I do what I do and this is what really matters!”

John’s story made an everlasting impact on DeAynne and her team. They decided that every other month, they will do something like this for one of their patients. They want to bring joy and peace during a time when their life has changed abruptly.  

And that’s exactly what DeAynne brought to John. He passed away about a month and a half after completing his bucket list, full of newfound peace and happiness.

“Every day I go home a better person because of the opportunities I have to spend time with my patients like John,” DeAynne said. “Even though he struggled so much, our team was there every single day. As we created that human interaction with him over that two month’s time, it was what he needed – but also what I needed just as much.”

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