While Payson's RTA Hospice prepares to celebrate National Hospice Month in November, Julie Williams and Coy Western are celebrating RTA Hospice.
With a vengeance.
While it's now hard for Williams to believe, it was just four months ago that she was feeling helpless, alone and without hope.
Her husband John was already battling rheumatoid arthritis when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in June of 1999. In short time, the twin diseases began to ravage John's memory, and he could no longer take care of himself.
"I was frazzled, I was tired, I was very emotional, very upset," Julie recalls. "I couldn't handle him, I knew it, and I didn't know what to do about it. I was afraid he'd hurt himself. I didn't think I had any options at all. I felt totally, completely helpless."
It was a friend a volunteer for RTA Hospice who turned Julie's life around.
"One day, she took my hand and said, 'When you're ready, you come to me and we'll talk hospice,'" Julie said. "Well, I was ready. I went, and it was the best thing I ever did."
Until then, Julie had been trying to take care of John, literally, 24 hours a day. Plus, she adds, "I was working against the emotional part of having a husband that's very ill and not knowing what to do for him."
One problem was that John, 65, would take his prescription pain medications whenever he remembered them whether or not he had already taken two or three times more than were prescribed for that day.
"Very often, he was just out of his head because of over-medication, and I couldn't control it because he wasn't about to give up his own control over it," she said. "That was my biggest worry."
That problem compounded others like when John would attempt to do things that were beyond his over-medicated ability, such as drive the car.
"He's over 6 feet tall, and I'm just 5-foot-two," Julie said. "There was no way I could stop him if he had his mind set. He has always been a very independent man. As the wind goes, so would my John."
But everything changed after Julie's initial contact with RTA Hospice, she said.
"They proceeded to help me oh, my word in every way. They started coming over every day to bathe him, to help with the medicine and make sure it was dispensed properly ... They were just always there for me, no matter what time of day, no matter what the problem."
The biggest benefit of RTA Hospice, she said, was "to have somebody to call. That made me feel like I wasn't alone in my decisions, or what could be done to help him. Every time I'd call, they would help me immediately whether I needed physical help or the answer to a question. They are wonderful people. I never came across one of them who wasn't helpful."
More help, more hope
Pine retiree Coy Western, 77, said he had never heard of RTA Hospice only a few months before his wife, Jewell, passed away in July of 1999.
"My wife had been ill for quite some time," Western says. "She had a double bypass, then she had a stroke, and she had diabetes that led her into a diabetic coma. From then it was just progressive. She was just in and out of the hospital for different things."
As Jewell's condition worsened, her physician, Dr. Mark Ivey, first suggested home health care "because I had no help, and he was afraid I couldn't take care of her by myself," Western said. "They did a good job, but they were limited in what they could do. Those girls were just here to do a job, to get it done, and to get someplace else. I needed more than that."
Dr. Ivey agreed. He called RTA Hospice and, Western says, "they came out the very next day and qualified her. Hospice was just wonderful. They came three times a week and bathed her. A nurse came at least once a week and checked her. If I needed them any time in between, all I had to do was call, and there would be somebody here within 15 minutes. They helped me right up until Jewell passed away."
And beyond, Western adds.
"Hospice got here right away after she was gone. They handled the call to the mortuary and all of those other details. They were really a lifesaver for me. They were with me all the way. All I had to do was to call them.
"What they furnished was so much more than what the home health care could do. And Jewell just loved them all. She always told them that.
"For me, well, they were such a help that I could never repay them," he said.
Incredibly, the responses of Julie Williams and Coy Western to RTA Hospice are not at all atypical.
"As a family goes through the process, sometimes they aren't quite as passionate because they have so much to absorb," said Kathleen Hughes, the organization's billing and contract coordinator. "But when they are able to step back and look at the services, the closeness, the friendship and the care that have been given, they're often overwhelmed."
And all of those positive elements are now primed for improvement 10 years after RTA Hospice was founded as Rim Country Hospice.
First, the organization's newly-adopted moniker is RTA Hospice and Palliative Care, to include starting in January individuals and their families who have been diagnosed with a life-limiting progressive illness which is not responding to curative treatment.
In palliative care, Hughes explained, the control of pain, of other symptoms, and of psychological, social and spiritual problems is paramount and the goal is the best quality of life for patients and their families.
In the last year alone, RTA has served over 125 families, not counting those families served by its Community Outreach Program (the forerunner of the Palliative Care Program), who were not ready, emotionally or physically, for hospice.
The Social Work department of RTA also offers bereavement support groups to the community for individuals faced with a long-term illness or the death of a loved one. Chaplains are also available and on call for spiritual concerns and discussion.
Within one year, if all goes well, this impressive menu of services will be offered from a brand new hospice building.
"Our conditional use will be approved Dec. 4," Hughes said, "and then Jan. 4 is the closing date on our land. We have all our money put away, and we're ready to go. We hope to have it up and open by the holiday season next year. That's what we're shooting for."
In other words, there is no shortage of reasons to celebrate National Hospice Month ... or RTA Hospice.
RTA Hospice and Payson Funeral Home Celebration of Life Memorial Service
Holiday seasons are often among the most emotionally difficult times for those who have experienced the death of a loved one. Holidays are intended to be a time of great joy, family togetherness, gift giving and thankfulness. Yet, if someone in your life has recently died, they can invoke extreme sadness, loneliness and emptiness.
Please join RTA Hospice in all our faith at the 5th Annual Memorial Service.
Place: Mount Cross Lutheran Church, 601 E. Highway 260, Payson.
Date: Sunday, Nov. 19.
Time: 2 p.m.
Who can attend: Anyone who would like to remember a special loved one. A sharing of food and friendship in the Mount Cross hall will follow the service.
RSVP: RTA Hospice (520) 472-6340.