Exceptional People in a One-Horse Town, Part I
One must not necessarily live in a major metropolitan center to meet some really exceptional people. There may be a gazillion such people in such a city, but how many do you really get to know well. The people to be featured in a series of blogs are just a few of the exceptional people I have the honor of knowing in my home town.
First, and foremost, there is my bride of almost 38 years. Putting up with me for that long is, in itself, a reason to be listed among the exceptional. She is a nurse. Appropriately enough she was a psychiatric nurse when we met. I guess that is what attracted her to me. She correctly diagnosed me as being just a little bit crazy. While I was in medical school she worked on the Clinical Research Unit of North Carolina Memorial Hospital, UNC, Chapel Hill. There she worked with kidney dialysis patients, when hemodialysis was in its infancy and the hemodialysis machines were the size of your average home washing machine. She was a member of the specialized medical team that took care of the first kidney transplant patients at NCMH-CH. She was a medical pioneer. During my internship/residency at Medical University of South Carolina, she continued her work on the dialysis unit and with kidney transplant patients there.
While I was in the Army in Germany for 3 years, when we went back to Chapel Hill for another year of residency, and after we moved back to my hometown, she pursued that most demanding and underappreciated occupation, being a full-time wife/mother, for several years. She also taught at our local church Kindergarten while our children were enrolled there. But, her main job was that of a housewife. However, her love for nursing beckoned, and she answered in a special way.
Over 20 years ago, she along with two other southern ladies had a dream, a vision…a Hospice Program for our community. No one around here had even heard of Hospice. Thus, twenty years ago the local not-for-profit Hospice was born on our back porch. She was the first, and for a period of time, the only Hospice employee (nurse, administrator, secretary, etc.). With the help of a small cadre of volunteers, United Way funding, and individual donations of money and second-hand office equipment, she made it go. Remember, these were the days prior to insurance and Medicare reimbursement for hospice services. The program was completely dependent on charitable contributions. Hospice had its infancy in a single upstairs room in our church’s Sunday school building and in the back of her station wagon.
Under her leadership and nurture as Executive Director, that single-employee enterprise has grown to a very successful not-for-profit Hospice now in competition with the newcomers, the for-profit Hospices. Its programs and services are available to people in need regardless of race, creed, religious preferences, or ability to pay. It now has over 60 employees, including nurses, a physician consultant, nurse's aides, psychologists, social workers, a chaplain, bereavement counselors, as well as the support, clerical, and administrative personnel. That once small cadre of volunteers now numbers in the hundreds. Continued local financial support from the community, much in the form of memorials and honorariums and support from the United Way, coupled with reimbursement for services in some cases, has enabled the Hospice program to offer new and expanded services. Each summer Camp Spinoza is conducted for children who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Counselors and social workers go to schools after tragic events. Speakers forums dealing with end of life issues are conducted. All the while extraordinary patient care continues on a day-to-day basis. Her Hospice program now serves our community as well as several surrounding counties in North and South Carolina, with an average daily census of over 100 patients. "HOSPICE CARES...It's not about dying, it's about living."
Hospice now occupies its own campus, Eaton Place (Named for Eaton Corporation whose Golf Pride Golf Grip Division is located here and is the major sponsor of the annual Hospice Golf Tournament-more later). On campus are the main Hospice office building and the recently completed six-bed Hospice Inpatient Unit, Morrison Manor.
All these facilities were fully funded before the groundbreakings. How? Generous local financial support from a grateful community. Foundation grants. And, the annual Eaton/Hospice Golf Tournament. That charity tournament alone has raised over 2 million dollars for the Hospice program over the last 20 years. This year's total exceeded $185,000. (The history of that golf tournament and the people who have made it succesful is worthy of a book, not simply a blog entry)
All this has been accomplished under the leadership of my bride, who still finds time for some good old-fashioned bedside nursing, wifery, and motherhood.
Nurse. Medical pioneer. Visionary. Administrator. Fund raiser. Wife. Mother. Dedicated daughter. Homemaker. Quite a remarkable person. And she lives in our little town. In fact, she lives right here. Lucky me.