The pink gown: a simple act demonstrates care to hospice patient’s family
Ellen Carroll was wearing her pink nightgown when she left Evelyn’s House, just like her granddaughter had promised she would be. It was a simple thing that made Carroll’s death just a little more bearable for the family that adored her.
Carroll was among the first patients admitted to Evelyn’s House after its opening June 19. The new BJC Hospice house for adult and pediatric patients is adjacent to Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. It’s beautifully designed, equipped and decorated, but the exceptional expertise and care shown by the Evelyn’s House staff, made it feel like a home, says Ashley Wegner, Carroll’s granddaughter.
Following a yearlong cancer battle, Carroll received devastating news on June 14 – the cancer had spread and was no longer treatable. She entered hospice care, staying first in her daughter’s home. Members of the close-knit family took turns caring for her, with BJC Hospice nurses visiting regularly.
But trying to work and care for their own families while providing round-the-clock care for Carroll took its toll. “There were times when some of us were coming to work on one hour’s sleep,” says Wegner.
When Carroll’s pain became too difficult to manage effectively at home, she was admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Though hospitalization was necessary to keep her symptoms controlled, neither Carroll, nor her family, wanted her last days to be spent in a hospital.
Carroll’s doctors suggested the newly opened Evelyn’s House as an ideal alternative to the hospital: a place where they could medically manage her symptoms in a home-like setting with her family nearby. Wegner, a Missouri Baptist Medical Center employee, was familiar with Evelyn’s House stories in BJC TODAY, on BJCnet and in various newsletters. She never imagined her family would be among those using it. But Carroll moved to Evelyn’s House on June 28.
The sweetest lady
Ellen Jane Carroll loved her faith, her family, her country and Elvis. Carroll’s family treasured time spent with her. “She was the sweetest lady,” says Wegner.
Carroll, who would have been 75 on Aug. 5, was happiest spending time with her family, especially in her house and garden in Hillsboro, Mo. And when family members insisted on taking her along when they traveled, she was game to go.
“Poor grandma! We drug her around everywhere – Mt. Rushmore, Niagara Falls, Mexico,” laughs Wegner.
Making sure Carroll was happy was a family priority.
To cheer up her grandmother during the BJH stay, Wegner even hired an Elvis impersonator. “When ‘Elvis’ walked through the door of her room, she looked like a whole new person,” says Wegner. “Elvis” even prayed with Carroll, much to her joy.
“You’re going to the show”
Arriving at Evelyn’s House, the Carroll family, like most people, was impressed by the facility’s design, layout and furnishings; the balance between bright spaciousness and cozy hominess; and the special touches including family gathering rooms, a kitchen and café, a well-stocked library, children’s play rooms, sun rooms.
They especially appreciated the wide glass doors in each patient room overlooking the woods and fields of Creve Coeur’s Millennium Park, where deer wandered in the evenings. “My grandmother hadn’t been out of bed in weeks,” she says. “So, it was a connection to the outdoors.”
But beyond the physical surroundings, the Evelyn’s House staff provided exceptional care, not just to Carroll, but to her family as well, says Wegner. Carroll had stopped speaking and seldom opened her eyes. But her nurses greeted her, along with family members, when they entered the room, explaining procedures and medications, monitoring her closely to make sure she was comfortable, noted Wegner. Staff also made sure family members were getting needed rest and food to sustain them through a difficult time.
From the time Carroll had entered hospice care, at least one family member had remained at her side. But on June 29, when they mentioned that they’d be missing a long-planned girls’ night out at The Muny to stay with Carroll, nurse Dawn Anderson urged them to go. Carroll was stable and Anderson promised to call if her condition changed at all.
“Go to the show,” Anderson told them. “She’d want you to go.”
The family members, realizing Anderson was right, went to The Muny. And though they didn’t enjoy it as much as they would have with Carroll along, they realized the much-needed a break had given them time to regroup, says Wegner.
A session with one of the music therapists got the family talking and laughing, as well as crying, as they reminisced about their favorite memories.
“The nurses and the staff were always doing little things to make you realize that life does go on,” she says.
Such a wonderful place
Carroll’s time at Evelyn’s House was brief. At 11:40 p.m., June 30, Wegner got the call that her grandmother had passed away.
Shortly afterwards, she walked into Carroll’s room to find nurse Diane McBroom gently brushing her grandmother’s hair. But she also noticed that Carroll was wearing a hospital gown, not her pink nightgown. McBroom told her that the gown had become soiled earlier in the evening.
Tearfully, Wegner explained that she had promised her grandmother that Carroll would leave the facility for the last time in her own nightgown, not a shapeless, anonymous hospital gown. McBroom immediately took the nightgown down the hall to the Evelyn’s House laundry room, where she popped it in the washing machine.
“If I had to beat it on a rock, I was going to get it clean in time,” McBroom says.
By the time the family left Evelyn’s House, Carroll wore the freshly laundered pink nightgown.
McBroom’s act demonstrated the care and respect she and the rest of the staff had shown Carroll and her family throughout her stay, Wegner says. Knowing that Carroll had spent her last days without pain, surrounded by love and caring, helped the family get through the hardest time in their lives.
“Evelyn’s House is a blessing,” says Wegner. “It’s such a wonderful place.”