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Dispelling Myths and Understanding Hospice Care

Death. There, we got one of the most uncomfortable words in the English language out of the way first. What if I told you that death does not have to be uncomfortable? Dare I go as far as saying it can even be beautiful. A person’s journey to the inevitable can be made easier, more comfortable and even beautiful with the help of hospice.

There exists many beliefs about what hospice care is, and what it isn’t. Many of these beliefs are founded in myths perpetuated by the lack of proper education provided by hospice agencies themselves. At the inception of my career with Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions my understanding of what hospice care is aligned with many of the common myths I refer to below. Myths that induce a fear that keeps people from receiving the important end-of-life care they need and, most importantly, deserve.

Let’s dismiss the myths and replace them with the reality of what hospice is:

Myth #1: Hospice services are reserved for the last few days of life.

Truth: Hospice is for anyone diagnosed with a terminal disease and given a prognosis of six months or less of life if their disease were to follow the normal projection. Six-month prognosis is strictly a qualifier, services are not limited to that timeframe. Several patients have lived multiple years with the comfort and care provided by Central Wyoming Hospice.

Myth #2: Hospice is giving up, a patient will die quickly on hospice services.

Truth: Hospice does not hasten death. Hospice manages symptoms while the patient goes through the natural dying process. In fact, several studies have been completed, and the conclusion is the same: Patients with a chronic illness live an average of 30 days longer while using hospice services.

Myth #3: The use of morphine is what starts the dying process in patients.

Truth: Morphine, when used properly, does not hasten death. It is an effective pain reliever that works to block pain signals in the brain. In addition, morphine is effective in treating shortness of breath. Morphine will increase the lungs tidal volume, improving gas exchange with the result being a decrease in the patient experiencing shortness of breath. Morphine will make a patient more comfortable and improve quality of life.

Myth #4: Hospice is only for cancer patients.

Truth: Hospice care is available for any individual with a terminal illness, including cardiac, respiratory, neurological, and many other illnesses. The focus of care is tailored to the individual patient’s symptoms regardless of the disease process.

At Central Wyoming Hospice, we work to dispel myths about hospice care and educate the community on all that hospice care truly is. We are with patients as they walk through the final stages of their journey. We are with the families and caregivers as they process the loss of their loved ones, providing them with the tools to process their loss effectively.

Central Wyoming Hospice works closely with the patients and family members to determine the best plan of care for each individual patient. Hospice plans of care are determined in conjunction with each individual patient to ensure that all wishes are honored and respected.

If you or a loved one is ever faced with the decision, consider reaching out to Central Wyoming Hospice. There is always someone available to speak with you and answer any questions you may have. Hospice is all about providing comfort every step of the way and walking with you through every part of your end-of-life journey.

 

Michael Steele, RN

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Honoring Independence and Choice: The Truth About Hospice Care

As a nurse at Central Wyoming Hospice, I have witnessed firsthand how hospice care embodies the core Wyoming values of independence and choice, especially during life’s final chapters. Yet, misconceptions persist about what hospice truly represents. Let me share a heartfelt patient story that illustrates the profound impact of hospice on honoring individual autonomy.

I recently cared for Mr. Johnson*, a resilient rancher from our community who had been battling a terminal illness. Mr. Johnson epitomized Wyoming’s spirit of independence. He cherished his ranch and valued self-sufficiency above all else. When he was referred to our hospice program, there was apprehension from his family about what this transition would mean for him—a man who had always lived life on his own terms.

Initially, Mr. Johnson was skeptical about hospice. Like many, he believed the myth that hospice meant giving up control. However, as I worked closely with him and his family, I witnessed a transformation in his understanding of what hospice truly offered.

Hospice care empowered Mr. Johnson to remain independent in his own home, surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of his ranch. He was able to make choices about his care, expressing his preferences for pain management and comfort measures. Instead of feeling like he was losing control, Mr. Johnson discovered a newfound sense of agency in directing his end-of-life journey.

One day, Mr. Johnson shared with me how grateful he was to have the freedom to decide how he wanted to spend his remaining time. He reflected on his life experiences and expressed a deep sense of peace, knowing that he could maintain his independence even as he received the support of our hospice team.

This experience encapsulates the essence of hospice care in Wyoming—a commitment to honoring each individual’s autonomy and dignity. Hospice is not about taking away choices; it’s about empowering patients like Mr. Johnson to navigate their journey with grace and self-determination.

Unfortunately, myths persist about hospice, including the misconception that it’s only for the very end of life or that it means foregoing all medical treatments. In reality, hospice is tailored to meet patients’ needs at any stage of a terminal illness, focusing on enhancing quality of life and providing comprehensive support.

At Central Wyoming Hospice, we are dedicated to debunking these myths and promoting a deeper understanding of hospice care. We believe in the importance of preserving independence and choice for every patient we serve. Our interdisciplinary team works collaboratively with patients and families to develop personalized care plans that prioritize comfort, dignity, and individual preferences.

As a nurse committed to upholding Wyoming values, I encourage our community to embrace hospice not as a surrender, but as a pathway to honoring the autonomy and independence of our loved ones during life’s final journey. Let us celebrate the freedom that hospice provides—a freedom to live fully until the very end, on one’s own terms.

In honoring independence and choice, let us dispel the misconceptions surrounding hospice and recognize it as a beacon of compassionate care that aligns perfectly with the spirit of our great state.

Michael Steele, RN

Central Wyoming Hospice

*Name changed to protect privacy

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Central Wyoming Hospice & My Mom

In celebration of National Hospice & Palliative Care Month, we would like to share a story.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, Mom looked so different. It had only been six months since I had seen her, but she had lost so much weight. Her clothes were hanging off her. She was moving much slower, and she barely touched her favorite part of Thanksgiving—the pecan pie. I wasn’t sure what to do. That is when a friend suggested I call Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions. I did. It was one of the hardest calls I have ever made, but also one of the best calls.

That afternoon, a nurse came over to visit us. She explained that the hospice team would help take care of my mother, me, and the rest of our family. They could provide visits from nurses, home health aides, volunteers, social workers, chaplains, and even a Nurse Practitioner. She told us that they would help get Mom a hospital bed and walker or wheelchair if she needed it. The nurses would also help manage her medications. Her regular doctor would continue to be her doctor, and the hospice staff would coordinate her care. The nurse said we would be a part of every decision, they weren’t here to tell us what to do, but to support us through this journey.

I knew Mom didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore, but I wasn’t sure how that would really look or how I would be able to respect this decision. Hospice was exactly what I needed.

Losing my Mom was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. I know the Thanksgiving table will feel different this year, but I also know my Mom enjoyed her final months. She looked forward to the hospice nurse’s visits and her talks with the chaplains. One of my favorite memories is walking into Mom’s home and seeing a home health aide curling Mom’s hair after she had just painted Mom’s nails bright pink. I will miss her every day, but I know she was cared for, she was comfortable, and she was at peace.

-Anonymous

“It’s Okay to Cry at Christmas,” Dealing With Grief Through The Holidays

The holidays are upon us, and while many people are celebrating the sights and sounds and songs of the season, there are others with whom these holidays do not happily resonate. It could be that way for any number of reasons; maybe somebody close to them passed away recently. Perhaps they’re in the midst of a divorce or their depression and anxiety has left them hopeless, just trying to make it through the holidays. 

For these reasons and countless others, the holidays might not be a happy time for people. But if a person is mourning and grieving the loss of a loved one, that’s where Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions comes in.

“People who are grieving struggle more throughout the holidays,” said Todd Von Gunten, the Grief Care Coordinator with Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions. “These are family holidays or gathering holidays where traditions are involved, where certain meals or activities are repeated ritually, on a regular basis. If one person were to have died and is not present at the events, it is readily noticed. Sometimes people don’t know what to do if that person had a particular role that was specific to them, and it just isn’t going to be the same without them.” 

Of course, when somebody has passed away, when a family member is missing during a holiday, it just doesn’t feel the same. 

 “What happens to a grieving person in these three months is also environmental,” Von Gunten said. “The public activity on the streets and in stores is amplified. So it becomes very difficult to move about. A grieving person can become highly overstimulated. Sounds, sights, touch, smell – all of that becomes very difficult. Being around large groups of people is a difficult thing for them.”

The problem is that Christmas, especially, is supposed to be a time for cheer. For many people, however, it’s the exact opposite. 

“It’s the sights and sounds of the holiday, where people are saying ‘Be of good cheer,’ ‘Peace on earth,’ or that ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year;’ but for a grieving person, it’s not,” Von Gunten said. “They can’t just come out and be joyous and be actively involved with the traditions. And that’s okay.”

Von Gunten offered a variety of tips for those dealing with grief and for those who are close to the grieving person. If a family member has passed, Von Gunten suggested still keeping a place for them at the table, maybe with a candle representing the person. Possibly, during Thanksgiving, a family can go around saying what they were thankful about when it comes to the person who is no longer there. 

“Sometimes, what we talk about in our grief group, is that it’s good to maybe sit down before the holidays and make a plan,” Von Gunten stated. “Death is the ultimate loss of control. Even if you knew it was coming, you couldn’t stop it from happening. Control is a helpful thing; it’s something that people who are grieving kind of yearn for and need. So if you can plan what’s going to happen during the holidays, that could be helpful.”

That plan, Von Gunten said, could consist of as much, or as little, as one would want. 

“Be gentle with yourself,” he said. “Whether it comes to cooking, or decorating the house, or wrapping presents, maybe you just say that you don’t have the energy for that this year; maybe we can pick it up again next year. And that’s okay. Maybe instead of one person cooking the big holiday meal, maybe it can be more of a potluck and everybody brings one dish. It’s also important to recognize that these kinds of things can bring about tears and laughter and multiple emotions all at once. And that’s okay. It’s okay to cry at Christmas. In fact, it’s healthy to be able to release whatever emotion you have. Any emotion is valid and real because we’re human. It is okay to laugh and smile during this time as well. You’re not betraying your loved one because you’re feeling okay. If you laugh at something or smile at something and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, I should be sad,’’ it’s okay! Whatever emotion you have – if you remember them and you love them, it’s okay.” 

It’s okay. Maybe that’s the message that needs to be spread more than anything when somebody is grieving. It’s okay. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to laugh and smile or cry and it’s okay to not want to be around anybody this year. All of those things are okay, and they’re valid. They are okay. You are okay. 

It’s also okay if you don’t know how to comfort a grieving person. What works for somebody may not work for somebody else. Sometimes people want to talk; sometimes they just want to listen. Other times, they just want to sit in silence with somebody that they care about. But Von Gunten does have some tips about how to be a ‘Grief Support Person,’ as he put it. 

“The first thing you need to be is somebody who always wants to listen,” he stated. “The grieving person needs to talk about their loved one as much as they need to, and a support person always, always, always, wants to hear about the person who died. They will also always, always, always accept the grieving person where they’re at. A grieving person is often overwhelmed by emotion and they also struggle with exaggerated emotions. They might be a little more irritable than usual at times, and they don’t always recognize that. They’re just overwhelmed. And so, a Grief Support Person will always accept them where they’re at, listen to them, and they won’t try to fix them. That’s the big thing. Just be present.” 

Sometimes, just being present is the greatest gift you could give to somebody, especially during the holidays. Just being around. Just being able to offer an ear, or a shoulder, or a hand to hold. But it’s important to do so on the grieving person’s terms. 

The greatest gift you can give to somebody who is dealing with grief through the holidays, is to remind them that they are not alone; that they don’t have to grieve by themselves. 


Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions will begin offering Grief Support meetings for six weeks, beginning in mid-January. For more information on these groups, or to learn more about grief and how to handle it, visit the Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions Services page.

A Place of Refuge: What You Don’t Know About Hospice Care

It’s derived from the Latin word meaning “hospitality” or “a place of refuge”, but most people upon hearing the word “hospice”, tend to cringe as if the word is itself a diagnosis of death. They often believe that “hospice” is a place, the nice Hospice Homes near the hospital where people go for the last few days of their life. The fact is, hospice is not a place, it’s a philosophy of care and a specialized field of medicine.

“Let’s be honest, it’s hard to talk about death,” says Susan Burk, the Community Liaison at Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions. “When a patient and family hear ‘hospice’, there’s often already fear in their hearts. Hospice is not about death. It’s about life…having the best quality of life in the time that is given to you.”

At Central Wyoming Hospice, their team companions not only the patient but the entire family through the end-of-life journey, as their mission states, “with skill and compassion”. They work to make that journey what the patient wants, providing a plan and a path forward. Hospice patient-directed care prioritizes comfort, quality of life, and individual wishes and includes addressing physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, a good time to address the many myths and misconceptions about what Hospice is and isn’t.

  • Hospice is not a place. At CWHT, most patients are in their own homes, whether it be their residence in town, out at their ranch, or in an assisted living or nursing home facility. Their Chapman and Kloefkorn Hospice Homes are available to those who need that specialized level of care.
  • Choosing hospice care does not mean you’re giving up; rather, it’s a shift in the way you’re approaching your medical care. If you or your loved one no longer wants treatment or it’s not working, Hospice provides a way to live the rest of your days in comfort, peace, and dignity. It’s not about giving up, it’s about improving quality of life surrounded by family, in the comfort of your home.
  • Choosing hospice doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. You can leave a hospice program at any time for any reason without penalty. You can also restart hospice services at any time if you are medically eligible.
  • Hospice does not hasten death, neither does it prolong life. In fact, some studies show that hospice patients with certain illnesses may live longer with hospice care than those who choose another path. Again, the goal is to make the quality of the patient’s life the best it can be in their last months, weeks, and days.
  • Hospice will not take away all your medications. Your hospice nurse will go over your medications with you and your family to decide what you need to stay comfortable. Other medicines may be added to keep you relaxed and free of pain.
  • You don’t have to give up your doctor if you choose hospice care. Our team of nurses will work with your doctor to be sure you get the best quality of care.
  • There’s no time limit for hospice services. Although a doctor must decide that you have a six-month prognosis to receive hospice care, patients aren’t discharged after that time. There’s a recertification process. Many Central Wyoming Hospice patients have been with them much longer than six months, some even years.
  • A conversation is not a commitment, and the Care Coordination Team at CWHT is happy to answer any questions you may have.

“Having that conversation can be a powerful thing,” says Burk. “It’s not a a commitment for you, but it is a commitment for us to make sure everyone in our community has access to, and knowledge of, this unique care.”

Karen’s Masterpieces

Karen hasn’t asked for much in her stay in the Kloefkorn Home…diced tomatoes and melted butter with salt and pepper, sliced pepperoni, maybe a ride around town. When asked if there was something that our staff could do for her, she said she would love to have her art supplies.

This started the conversation…

Karen painted several oil paintings in her later life, teaching herself via Bob Ross tutorials. She proudly shared photos of her beautiful creations. Many of them reflected the gorgeous colors that are a mainstay in Wyoming, thanks to our mountain ranges, rivers, sunrises, and sunsets. Karen even painted on a mini-easel – only slightly larger than a thumbprint – a dare from a family member. “She didn’t think I could do it”, as she offered proof of the accomplishment.

And this started the mission…

A call was placed to local art supply shop Goedicke’s. Within 45 minutes, Cameron called back to say a bag of supplies would be ready the next morning, thanks to the generosity of owner Claire Marlow.

Karen was grateful for the surprise and quickly got to work, planning her next creation. We look forward to seeing Karen’s next masterpiece!

Karen with her new art supplies

Working Nights at Central Wyoming Hospice

Nurse Courtney with patient

“There are two major reasons enjoy working as a night nurse at Central Wyoming Hospice:   

The first is that because it is usually a little slower, I get to interact more with patients and their families, giving them a little more one on one attention.  The second reason is that I get to work closely with the awesome aides we have. We work hand in hand throughout the night to get things done. There is just great teamwork, collaboration, and support between the staff that works at night.”

– Courtney, RN

Up, Up, and Away!

Gene wanted to fly, so our Transitions Coordinator Kristeen set out to make her an “Honorary Kid” for the day, and make her wish come true. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. We hope you enjoyed the view from Humpty Dumpty, Gene!

My Long Story Short

by: Veteran Volunteer & Board Member, Tom Noonan

I was recruited by a fellow Vietnam Veteran to help Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions with a program honoring all veterans called “We Honor Veterans”. The program includes, among other things, an elaborate ceremony usually performed with the family present. The ceremony starts with a declaration of thanks along with the presentation of a pin stating “We Honor Vets”. Then a red, white, and blue blanket crocheted by our volunteers is given to the veteran along with a challenge coin from the United States Senate. Also presented is a small U.S. flag to be hung on the veteran’s door and a star cut from a retired flag with this saying attached: “I have flown over our homeland in the U.S.A. I can no longer fly, for the wind and rain have caused me to be tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that VETERANS LIKE YOU HAVE KEPT OUR HOMELAND FREE. YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.” The last part of the ceremony involves a final salute from all of the veterans present. This can be a very emotional time as the honoree and those present realize this is the
final salute.

I really appreciate the opportunity to have this privilege in honoring my fellow veterans one last time. This is the end of my story. Please volunteer at Hospice in any capacity and write your own story.

Meet Sam

Meet Sam, there are a few things we can guarantee about this ol’ cowboy. He will call you “Sweetheart”, and yes…he would appreciate a bit more coffee with cream and sugar.

One of Sam’s happy places was a local watering hole and when he could no longer go to the bar, we brought the bar to him. Staff used their creativity to go above and beyond to keep him safe and content. We like to stop by “Sam’s Place” for some good company and to chat about the weather, his horses, and his time in the Navy…and maybe load him up on some “bar snacks”.

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