On the road to Lincolnton (another great clinic story)

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

(L) Amy Atwell, nurse liaison, and Jessica Hill, nurse practitioner

Amy Atwell (l), nurse liaison, and Jessica Hill, nurse practitioner

I’ve worked in many different companies — a bank, a telecommunications firm, a branding agency — but none of these places afforded me the vast and varied experiences like the ones I’ve had working for a hospice organization.  I’ve been in patient homes, in long-term care communities, clinics, and in hospice houses and I’ve traveled through numerous counties in North and South Carolina to meet families and collect stories.  The opportunities are seemingly everywhere.  That’s not surprising when you take into account the outstanding care we offer our patients; they are usually more than happy to share their experiences with us.

So that’s how I found myself on the road to Lincolnton a few weeks ago, ready to once again put on my listening ears and take notes.  We recently started holding a palliative care clinic at Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County (HPCLC) and it was high time for me to check it out.

I’d been to the palliative clinic at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville a couple of times before I visited this clinic at HPCLC.  Both experiences were completely eye-opening and wonderfully educational.  But one was very different from the other.  The patients and families I sat with at the hospice house received advice and counseling about maintaining quality of life and accessing support; in Lincolnton, the patients were concerned with quality of life too, but the discussions rotated more around symptom management.  (Disclosure: At LDHH-H, the patients I observed had dementia while the patients in Lincolnton were cancer patients — very different situations and goals of care.)  So, from my observations, the clinic in Lincolnton felt more like a traditional “doctor’s visit” while the clinic at LDHH-H felt more like a counseling session.

There was one thing, though, that both clinics had in common: the clinicians were out-of-this-world fantastic.  In Lincolnton, I met Amy Atwell, nurse liaison, and Jessica Hill, nurse practitioner.  They were both utterly charming and approachable — qualities that (I believe) are crucial for interacting with chronically sick patients.  And what’s more important, it was so very apparent that Amy and Jessica care deeply about their patients.  They do not offer mere lip service; everything they say comes from a blend of engaged mind and passionate heart.  They are both intentional and well-meaning in their actions and the counsel they offer.

I watched them interact with two patients that day.  Both patients were women, both had cancer.  The process was the same with each  —  Amy, the nurse liaison, spoke with the patient first and Jessica would follow up.  Amy counted and documented medications, asked about pain levels, and took vitals.  She asked about their eating habits, took their weight, and made sure they understood the timing of their pain medications.  Obviously very familiar with her patients, she joked with them, was sympathetic, delightfully “bossy”, and wholeheartedly supportive.

Jessica (the NP) would come in after Amy was finished.  She asked more questions of her patients, probing a little deeper into their mental state.  She asked about their anxiety levels, and how their pain was affecting them.  The first patient she saw, Deborah, was still receiving radiation; Jessica gave her tips on how to deal with the side effects.  (“Radiation loves protein,” I heard her say.  Who knew?)  She was able to explain what happens to the body during treatment in a way that made complete sense, using layman’s terms that even I could understand.  Jessica praised Deborah for accomplishments that she’s made since she started coming to the clinic two months ago — staying on top of her pain, and making good food and lifestyle choices.

HPCLC patient Kim with her son, Steven

HPCLC patient Kim with her son, Steven

The second patient that day, Kim, was a true “success” story.  Several months ago, the pain and nausea from her disease and treatment were so bad that she literally couldn’t get out of bed.  But since starting her visits to the clinic in April, her pain and symptoms are under control, she’s been able to eat, and has even gained a few pounds.  When Amy and Jessica saw her, they both had nothing but compliments — Kim had recently cut and colored her hair and, on that day, she had even put on makeup. (Another disclosure: Kim knew she was going to be observed and potentially photographed so she came prepared!)

Kim will be facing a detailed surgery soon and, understandably, had some concerns (I believe the words “dreading it” were used) over what would be happening.  Jessica calmly walked her through the steps of the procedure (again using terms that everyone in the room understood) and I watched as Kim visibly relaxed.  Jessica has an unbelievable knack for explanation.  She doesn’t sugarcoat but she doesn’t make it sound scary either.  She seems to sense the emotions that her patients will experience before they do and, as such, she tailors her words to compensate for those potential fears.  It’s a ministry of sorts that is extremely inspiring to witness.

Kim came to the clinic with her son, Steven.  Steven is Kim’s primary caregiver, sharing his mother’s journey and all the ups and downs that come with cancer treatment.  They both could not say enough good things about the HPCLC clinic and their interactions with Amy and Jessica.  They told me that coming to the clinic is so different from other doctor appointments.  I heard, “They don’t talk down to us here,” and “They spend as much time with us as we need.”

The mindsets and attitudes are just different here, born from a true desire to help combined with personal experience and perspective.  Jessica’s own father has cancer so she has been on both sides of the stethoscope.  She inherently understands the fear of watching a loved one fight this awful disease yet she also has the medical background and the clinical ears to assimilate information.  She acknowledges, though, that assuming the “loved one” role is often much harder than the “nurse practitioner” role.  Therefore, her empathy for her patients is real; her motivation to offer peace of mind is completely true and one hundred percent earnest.

I walked away from our Lincolnton office once again completely impressed with the staff members who work for this organization.  Like so many others I’ve had the fortune to observe, compassion, care, and concern simply radiate from the faces of Amy Atwell and Jessica Hill.  That, along with their dynamic personalities, goes a long way toward disproving the stereotype that “going to the doctor” is stressful and awful.  They had their patients laughing and smiling, a welcome relief (I would imagine) from dealing with cancer day in and day out.  It was truly a sight to behold and an experience that I won’t soon forget.

I’m telling you what.  You just don’t have days like that when you work at a bank.

Explore posts in the same categories: awareness, cancer, caregiving, Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County, Levine & Dickson Hospice House, palliative

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