Palliative care (care aimed at symptom relief for people living with serious illness) is often overlooked by caregivers supporting loved ones who are suffering from advanced illnesses. However, it can be an important service when they need help, especially if they need to ensure their loved ones are being cared for from afar. Beth Buchek is a caregiver who utilizes the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis’ (VNA) Advanced Illness Management (AIM) palliative care program to care for her father. Read more about her story:
Care from Afar
Beth was born and raised in St. Louis, but at 45, she and her husband took a “leap of faith” and moved to Long Beach, California after COVID began. It had been a dream of theirs, and they were learning through the pandemic that tomorrow is never promised. Beth has always been close with her family, so being away from St. Louis, where her parents still live, has been difficult for her, but she’s grateful that they’re still alive and well in their eighties.
Finding Compassionate Palliative Care
Beth first learned about palliative care from a friend who was finishing her master’s degree in social work with an emphasis on senior care. Beth had never considered palliative care as an option, but after realizing it may be a good fit for her father, she started making phone calls to different providers in the St. Louis region to find the right team to help her family through their journey. VNA was one of the groups she called, and Amy Michaelson, Patient Care Coordinator, followed up with Beth to listen to Beth’s needs and explain what the AIM program could do to help. This was valuable because Beth didn’t fully understand how to move forward with palliative care or what it could achieve. Amy was patient and understanding and gave Beth the information she needed to make an informed decision.
Treating the Whole Person
It’s been difficult for Beth to share the burden of her father’s illness with her mother from afar, but they are extremely close, and Beth knew she wanted to be a part of her father’s treatment. Thanks to technology, it’s been easier for her, and she and her mother are in frequent communication. One thing they discuss is how specialists often only look at one particular part of the picture versus considering her father as a whole person. Palliative care has helped alleviate that concern as it takes all factors into consideration over the course of her father’s treatment.
There Every Step
Beth didn’t realize that the AIM program was what she and her family needed at first, but each step of the journey made her more confident that she had made the right decision. From Amy being empathetic to the thoroughness Chief Medical Officer Dr. Fox showed during her evaluations, Beth feels that VNA has been there for her family every step of the way, making her father’s illness more manageable and respecting his wishes regarding his care.
Palliative Care Helps the Caregiver Too
The impact that AIM has made on Beth and her mother’s lives has been massive. Prior to palliative care, they felt lost in a sea of doctors who didn’t give Beth’s father the attention they felt he deserved. While Beth still feels overwhelmed at times, the AIM team has been a lifeline that advocates on behalf of her father at every turn. AIM has also provided Beth with additional resources to help with transitions such as moving her father to a primary care that makes house calls for those who are homebound.
“Nothing about my parents’ aging is easy,” says Beth. “VNA has helped make it bearable. They are another line of defense in our daily lives. The AIM program has opened dialogue about how to make decisions before a crisis happens and makes it easy for us to move into hospice care when we need to take that step. That step is much less scary when you are surrounded by a team that you already trust.”