I began my career at FAIRHOPE Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc. as a patient-contact volunteer back in March of 1997, before cell phones and...

A small group of committed people

man smiling

I began my career at FAIRHOPE Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc. as a patient-contact volunteer back in March of 1997, before cell phones and gift cards were common. At that time, FAIRHOPE was known as “Hospice and Health Services” and consisted of approximately 30 paid employees and 30 volunteers. One of the things I noticed early on about our hospice was that if a person on service needed any kind of assistance, the staff was willing to help. We were definitely a small group of committed people.

One example of how we respond happened on a Wednesday early in my patient-care volunteer career. The volunteer coordinator made a rare phone call to me during the day at work. Usually she would call me in the evening so I figured that something was up. It was Dec. 23 and my day job as a construction trailer leasing agent was slow. She asked if I would be interested in another patient assignment. Although I was visiting someone on service on a regular basis, I never wanted, then or now, to say that I was too busy to help someone who was terminally ill. So I agreed to take on another assignment.

She gave me the usual information about the person I would be visiting (age, terminal disease, if they have any spouse and children, location, etc.). Then she mentioned that I would have to drop in on them to work out a visiting schedule because their (land line) phone had been disconnected for nonpayment. She told me the FAIRHOPE social worker had made arrangements for the phone to be reinstalled but it would take about two weeks. What?! Two weeks and he’s terminally ill? She said our social worker did what she could but because of the holidays many of the linemen took time off and two weeks was the best that could be hoped for.

I knew that something had to be done to fix the phone situation sooner. My problem was that I didn’t know any “higher-ups” at the phone company who could pull strings. Besides, our social worker had tried everything. I happened to remember that the father of one of my son’s friends, Mike, was a lineman for the phone company. I hoped that maybe he knew someone in management who could help. It took a little while to track down his wife who gave me Mike’s mobile work number.

I called Mike, who was at a work site, and explained that a terminally ill man was going to have to possibly wait for two weeks before his phone was to be reconnected. This would cause tremendous communication problems and create more difficulties than already existed for this family. He told me he was just “one of the grunts in the field” but would see what he could do.

In the meantime, there were several other issues that had to be dealt with because the family was poor. Due to his illness, the dad had not been able to work for months. He had been the one with insurance. His wife, who made minimum wage and had no insurance, eventually quit her job to care for her husband. Looking at the situation from a distance, quitting her job wasn’t the best idea, but they had no extended family to help and she did what she thought was best. Regardless, in any situation FAIRHOPE’s staff does not look for fault. We look for a remedy.

While the phone problem continued to be dealt with, FAIRHOPE’s staff was trying to arrange for the couple’s three children to have a nice Christmas. The Office Manager and the Nursing Director each hastily took up a collection among all of our employees. Area charitable organizations and groups having toy drives were then contacted. As it turned out, since this event happened so close to Christmas all of those contacted had given out most of their supply of toys. and “the pickins were slim”. And much to their chagrin, they soon discovered that stores would have depleted inventories of toys too.

Undaunted, they bought a few toys they hoped the children would like. Plus gift certificates from a variety of stores at the River Valley Mall with the idea being that the parents could buy each other presents and maybe some necessities due to their financial distress. Talking to the dad weeks later, he told me that those gift certificates were greatly appreciated by him and his wife because it allowed them to go shopping and choose the gifts for their kids. Although very grateful of the toys, the gift certificates allowed them to go Christmas shopping “like we do every year” and not hand their children donations on Christmas morning. That was vital for the parent’s emotional well-being. They ended up not buying anything for each other.

Meanwhile, two hours after my call to the telephone lineman he called me back and simply said, “You’ve got a dial tone.” Meaning the phone was reconnected. I was flabbergasted. I had to ask him to repeat it. I could not believe that he was able to cut the time down from two weeks to less than two hours. He was very modest about it and explained that as each job request, or “work order”, comes in it is placed at the end of the list. The linemen are to take each work order at the top of the list, not pick and choose. Mike said that there was no question as to what had to be done and so he did it. Personally, I think that this was a classic case of the last shall be first.

All things considered, Christmas for the family of five turned out just fine considering their extraordinary circumstances. They had a small Christmas tree set up in the living room, toys under the tree, and presents personally bought by mom and dad. And they had a phone to call their friends at Hospice and Health Services (nka FAIRHOPE Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc.) if they needed anything.

FAIRHOPE Hospice is guided by a team approach to care. At our core, we instinctively respond as a team when someone is in a crisis. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

The joy of brightening that family’s life was truly the joy of Christmas for FAIRHOPE’s staff and volunteers who spontaneously bore the weight of the burden. With these small acts, they changed a bleak Christmas into one of love. Christmas in its purest form is when you celebrate it by giving love to those who need it most. Merry Christmas to you from FAIRHOPE Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc.

Rick Schneider, FAIRHOPE Hospice, wrote this column to be published in Logan-Hocking Times.