Sisters Answer To A Higher Calling: Hospice

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When one of Michelle Paul's patients learned that she couldn't cook well, he was concerned, not just for her well-being, but for the stomach of the young man she was planning to marry.

"He found out I couldn't cook very well and he (my husband) couldn't cook very well either, but he wanted to make sure my husband ate," said Paul, a CNA or Certified Nursing Assistant for RTA Hospice and Palliative Care. "I learned to make meat loaf and split pea with ham hock soup," she laughed.

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As CNAs at RTA Hospice and Palliative Care, Michelle Paul, left, and Aricka Johnson use their special training to bring comfort to patients and their families.

Although no particular moment with a hospice patient sticks out in CNA Aricka Johnson's mind, she said she enjoys working with and meeting new people.

"It's fun getting to meet really cool people and their families," she said.

Paul, 21 and Johnson, 20 are far from typical twenty-somethings. They are sisters with strong family and community ties who chose to make their homes and careers in Payson after high school graduation.

Paul and Johnson decided to pursue an almost spiritual field of health care: Hospice.

A goal of hospice is to enhance a dying patient's quality of life. At RTA Hospice and Palliative Care between four and five teams provide compassionate care for patients at home. This interdisciplinary team is comprised of a social worker, a chaplain, a volunteer and a CNA. Although each team is responsible for 25 or more patients, their schedule is never too packed, giving them time to stop and listen to a patient's story or hold their hand and ask with sincerity, "How are you doing today?" And then listen to the answer.

Nursing assistants help with meals and baths. They may record vital signs and fluid input and loss.

Yet to be invited into someone's home at the end of life could well be considered a spiritual gift.

As hospice CNAs, Johnson and Paul have daily contact with individuals and families who are facing the end of life. These are human beings they must learn to care for without becoming too attached.

"It is not possible not to get attached to a certain extent. Seeing them out of pain does make it easier to let go," said Johnson in her soft spoken voice.

Paul thought about becoming a veterinarian, and then she and her sister considered massage therapy before coming to the same career decision separately.

Johnson began in the first CNA program available through Gila Community College in Payson when she was only 17.

Paul received her CNA through the program at Payson Care Center. She said that it was there that she first got attached to the elderly, adding, "It seemed natural to stay with them."

The sisters met their husbands through mutual family ties. They went to the same youth group at church, and married their high school sweethearts last summer in separate ceremonies.

They all hang out together and chose to set up housekeeping in Payson because their families are here and they like the lifestyle Payson offers with the pines and the trees and the water.

Johnson's husband Joey, plans to become a nurse and Paul's husband Joseph, was a CNA, so they both go home to understanding men, at least one of who has eaten meat loaf for dinner.

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