January 29, 2020

Like It Was Yesterday

Joann Chamberland vividly remembers the day she brought the first patient to Hospice House more than 25 years ago.

Last June, our agency and community marked 25 years of providing care at Hospice House during an event in the Susan McLane Memorial Garden, in which Joann told the story of the first Hospice House patient.

“Back then, we were allowed to pick patients up in our own cars and bring them to Hospice House,” Joann said. “I had my Volkswagen Rabbit, so I picked her up at eight in the morning and brought her in the front door. I got a wheelchair and wheeled her in. Before we made it into the living room, she just burst into tears. She said this place was too beautiful for her. I said, oh my gosh, this was built for you.”

Joanne was part of the first group of nurses to be permanently assigned to Hospice House after it opened on April 18, 1994. Thanks to the vision of partners and remarkable community support, it was the first Hospice House in New Hampshire.

“When I first came here, there was not a nurse assigned to Hospice House,” she said. “Nurses came in, completed visits, and returned to Community Hospice. We were on-call and we were here a lot.”

“There was no nurse here to administer medications, so we had to pre-package every single medication and keep it in a lock box so that the volunteer or the licensed nursing assistant could hand the package to the patient,” Joann added. “The patient had to administer it themselves. If not, we would have to call a family member and they would have to help us with that.”

At the beginning, volunteers cooked and cleaned, as well as transferred patients.

“We taught volunteers how to safely transfer a patient from a bed to a chair and how to reposition patients while they were in bed,” she said. “They were incredible.”

Unforgettable Moments
Every home is a setting for unforgettable moments, including Hospice House. Even though Joann has cared for hundreds of patients and their families, she still marvels at some of the things she has witnessed first-hand.

“There was a patient in Room 6 who was very near death,” she said. “His wife had been caring for him for years at home to the point where they were no longer able to communicate at all. He was unresponsive. He was dying and she would sit by his bed for at least an hour or two while he was here. She would always say I love you and I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“One day, I told her his condition had changed and his breathing had changed,” Joann added. “His time could be limited. When you say goodbye today, it could be the last time. She held his hand and said I love you with such passion. He opened his mouth and was able to say I love you back. It was unbelievable.”

Being a Hospice Nurse
In 1974, while working on a medical/surgical floor at Memorial Hospital (now Southern NH Medical Center) in Nashua, Joann was asked if she would be interested in attending a hospice symposium being taught by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who was a pioneer in near-death studies.

“This was the first symposium on hospice in the United States and the people who were our instructors were from England where hospice was already up and running,” she said.

From that point on, she knew becoming a hospice nurse was for her. 

“This has been a home for me, it really has,” she said. “This has been the fulfillment of all my nursing dreams to be here. I used to say someday I’m going to work in a Hospice House. I do not know where, but someday I am going to.” Over time, hospice evolved and expanded into more healthcare disciplines to help treat the “whole patient” or holistic approach to care.

“I like being able to work with our team to get patients to a place where they are peaceful,” Joann said. “Hearing a family come in and say, I didn’t think I’d ever see them like this again. This is what I hoped she would be like.”

Listening is so important, especially in hospice.
“We have a wonderful opportunity to provide great comfort – physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” she said. “Someone who is suffering just needs your presence sometimes. I try to help families understand that when they feel like they are doing nothing, they are doing more than they could possibly imagine, just by being there.”