The Gift

Question: What does a home health and hospice company have to do with school supplies?

Answer: If the company happens to be TrueVine Healthcare Services, the answer is: Plenty!


It will probably make more sense if I give you a little background. As a social worker for hospice, I am frequently involved in our patient's (and their family's) struggles outside of their normal health care needs. Many have heard of home health and hospice services like wound care, lab draws, physical therapy, diabetes management, and pain and comfort control. But what happens when nurses and aides notice their patient "just isn't herself today", yet she tells them "Oh, everything's fine"?

Our nurses and aides have a special "sixth sense". I see it all the time. They develop relationships with their patients differently than those in other health care settings. So, when Mrs. Jones says "Everything's fine, Dear," they know when she means it, and when she really does not—she just doesn't want to burden anyone.

Such is the case when my colleague (Cynthia), an impassioned nurse, made a routine home visit to a patient on a routine day. She noticed Lettie (not her real name) just wasn't herself. And as Lettie routinely does, she denied any problems or concerns, because she certainly wasn't going to add any more medicines to the dozens she was already taking. Because Lettie had learned if you express concern, you usually get a pill added to your med box!

But Cynthia changed this visit from ordinary to extraordinary, simply because she cared and listened to what her patient was NOT saying. She knew Lettie was the primary breadwinner for her household, even though she was on a fixed income. Lettie literally lives for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, four of whom live with her. Instead of charting Lettie's vital signs, medicines, oxygen levels, and then moving on to her next patient, Cynthia sat down to lend an ear.

What she learned was that Lettie's great-grandchildren didn't want to go to school this year. They weren't excited like grade school and high school freshmen usually are. Lettie even heard her great-granddaughter threaten to "just drop out" to her mother a few nights before. Lettie was losing sleep and constantly worrying, which is what Cynthia's sixth sense picked up. It turns out that Lettie's granddaughter didn't have the resources to buy her kids school supplies, much less any new school clothes. Everyone knows how imperative these are these days, and in a small school where everyone knows everyone, the problem is multiplied. A student isn't able to just hide or "get lost in the crowd".

After sharing with Lettie that she would look into options or community agencies that might be able to help, Cynthia returned to the office. She asked if I had some time to talk about one of our patients. And then she told me Lettie's story. Remember, Cynthia is impassioned, and caring for her patient meant more than vital signs and medications. She knows a person's health, and that well-being comes from so many things surrounding them. She knows hearts can break from things other than clogged arteries. She also knows the company she works for believes and feels the same way.

We talked about the TrueVine Family Foundation Grant Program. This is a grant program managed by the TrueVine board, and its purpose is simply to help others in need. This program is funded by donations from previous family members of patients, friends, etc. TrueVine knows when people are very ill, they and their families often have very little energy leftover, and so they made the application user-friendly and undemanding-- no copies of three years' worth of tax returns, bank statements, or income verification. Tell them who you are, and what you need. The maximum grant won't buy you a car, but, it turns out, it will buy you school supplies and clothes!
And so it was. Cynthia and I completed the application for Lettie's great-grandchildren (the two that were returning to school). We felt very lucky the board was meeting the Monday before school was starting! Soon, we received word: our grant was approved! I almost felt as though it had been approved for me because I knew it was going to be the key for Lettie's great-grandchildren staying in school, and that was an awesome feeling! I couldn't wait to drive down to Lettie's home, and tell them. I had to use my cruise control because I knew I would speed otherwise!

By chance, when I arrived at my patient's home, her granddaughter and great granddaughter (the one threatening to drop out of school) were there with Lettie. I walked in as I usually do, and usually, her great granddaughter slips away to a back room (a typical teenage response), and she did this time as well. I explained to Lettie and her granddaughter that Cynthia had shared some with me about their current dilemma, being in need of school supplies and clothes. I presented the grant award to them, in the form of gift cards to a major department store. 

I could almost see a burden lift from Lettie's face as a familiar smile returned. Lettie's granddaughter is a tough woman, much like her grandmother, but she accidentally let a tear fall. She was going to be able to send her kids to school, and they would be just like everyone else. They wouldn't be embarrassed or ashamed. Her daughter wouldn't feel like dropping out of school to avoid being made fun of. But, the most unexpected thing happened next. The great-granddaughter came out of the back room. For the first time. Normally, she walks with her head down, her long hair covering her face. This time, she was smiling, I could see her face, and she spoke to me, and said, "Thank you." That was more than enough return for me! We talked just a few minutes longer before Lettie's great granddaughter had talked her mother into going right then and there to the store, and they were off! Lettie's other great granddaughter had her shopping spree the next day, and I was told that it was just as exciting as the first!

I share this story with others because the small acts of kindness we do for others matter. Our nurse could have charted vital signs, medications, etc., and gone on her way. Instead, she took the time to notice, and to care. It wasn't our patient who needed the school supplies, but it may as well have been. Cynthia knew Lettie worrying about her family wasn't good for her health. She knew there were other interventions besides pills or bandages that can help our patients and their families. TrueVine knows this too, and they continue to help other Letties, because the small acts of kindness we do for others matter.


Mary Henslee, LCSW                                                                                                          
TrueVine Healthcare Services
Heavenly Hospice Social Worker