Needham, Mass. – I’ve been working on a personal project for the past weeks, and I wanted to just sort of put out there what I’ve been working on. By no means is this anywhere near finished. The final product will not be in a blog format anyways.
I grew up in a family of medical professionals. I understand way too much in that field that the average person doesn’t have to know about (or want to know about). I’ve also dealt with a great deal of loss in my short lifetime. These two things prepared me to do a project on Hospice. I believe that the concept of hospice is very misunderstood, especially in the younger generations. In our culture it’s almost taboo to talk about death and dying, and I feel like this gives hospice a bad name.
My goal of the project is to tell two different stories. First, what hospice is really like. It’s a place that is made to put terminally ill and dying patients in a comfortable place, where nurses and aides can assist them to be comfortable, as well as family and friends. While the thought of dying is sad, there is so much happiness and love that comes from the entire situation, especially inside of a hospice. Live goes on while a patient stays there.
The second goal is to tell the personal story of a patient I follow through their journey at the hospice. I was connected with a woman named Tricia who was recently admitted to the Tippett House Hospice in Needham, Mass. She was diagnosed with Stage-4 Metastatic Cancer over the Summer. After going to a hospital and then a rehabilitation center, they declared she was incurable and only had a short amount of time left to live.
Tricia worked for a company that designs very high end closets and organization systems. She also was a burlesque dancer on the side. When her back first started to hurt, she thought it was related to dancing, but that’s when she was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, she has lost the ability to walk, she can’t use her left arm very much, and other parts of her are beginning to be affected. The doctors did not give her a certain amount of time left to live, and Tricia does not want to know.
Tricia uses her diloted pump to administer a morphine-type medicine to help with her pain.
The way I wanted to shoot this project was just to document her day to day routine, and everything that I experienced and saw happening. I can’t spend all day every day there, so I drop in every few days, and occasionally wait over a week before going back.
I’ve experienced how her friends and family come out of nowhere to help her with so many things. Her friends come in and share stories with each other about childhood, or coworkers come in to talk about new designs and things they experienced at work.
Two friends raise glasses of wine while Tricia holds up a glass of eggnog during a afternoon of holiday decorating.
Now I’m not going to write about everything I’ve experienced so far, but I want to share a few moments and observations I’ve made. Tricia keeps a notebook of everything she does in a day. Each month she makes a new book. She’ll record when she takes medicine, eats food, drinks water, when friends come and visit, what time they arrive and leave, when she goes to the restroom, etc. She says it’s her way of keeping her thoughts together in one place.
A notebook titled "December" where Tricia records all of the daily events at the Tippett House.
Getting from place to place in the Tippett House is not easy for Tricia. Since she cannot use her legs to support herself anymore, employees need to use a Hoyer Lift to move Tricia from her bed to a special reclining wheelchair. She only likes to stay out of bed for an hour or two because she gets tired very quickly.
Tricia is lifted from her bed using a Hoyer Lift.
An aide at the Tippett House uses a Hoyer Lift to move Tricia to a special reclining wheelchair.
Tricia likes to stay very busy. She started a project scanning in old favorite family recipes that she’s making into a book using her computer. Her friends bought her a special “wand” scanner that she can swipe over recipes to scan them into her laptop.
Tricia scans in a recipe using her small scanner and laptop.
Two friends and an aunt react as Tricia shows them a scanned in recipe.
With Christmas and other holidays, Tricia was constantly surrounded by friends and family. I was there while the Christmas Tree was decorated by two friends one afternoon.
Two friends string white lights around Tricia's Christmas tree.
With the constant pain, it’s hard for Tricia to stay comfortable for an extended period of time, and without the ability to move on her own, it’s even harder. Her friends and family are always willing to help her re-adjust her position to make her more comfortable.
Two friends help move Tricia's leg so another pillow can be placed beneath it.
For some reason, Tricia has began to see things in doubles. They’re not sure if it’s the pain medicine, or the cancer spreading to other areas. Tricia has created a creative fix for this. She takes the cup she gets her pills in, draws an eye with eyelashes on the front, and covers up one of her eyes so that she can see normally again.
Tricia places her pill cup on her eye to help with her double-vision.
Tricia, being only 49 years old, is not the average hospice patient. Most of the patients are much older than her, and I believe the hospice is learning from having such a young patient staying there. Tricia, being a dancer has many dancer friends. They came to put on a quick show for her one afternoon.
Tricia's dancer friends talk with her before starting their quick show.
Tricia's friend Aurel dances inside the room at the Tippett House.
Aurel dances for Tricia inside her bedroom at the Tippett House.
Tricia's friend Manuela performs a dance.
Tricia has given me many introspective quotes that I’ve taken to heart. She constantly tells me everything in her life is now within arm’s reach. I’m constantly shocked at how technology has let her stay in touch with friends and family far away. She has a laptop, and iPad with a keyboard, and her cell phone. She is constantly being called and talked to.
"Everything in my life is within arm's reach."
Tricia set up a Google calendar so friends can sign up for times to come see her at the Tippett House.
Well I think that’s all for now. I may write another update, or I will wait till the project is complete. Thanks for looking!