Just over a year ago, Russell Mikesell didn’t know how much more fight he had in him.
The 65-year-old Ellsworth resident lost his right lung to cancer in February of 2010. He underwent months of chemotherapy and thought he was on the road to recovery. But in the fall of 2010, he was back in the hospital after his remaining lung collapsed.
After his release, he began receiving hospice care at his home, but was soon moved to the VitalCare Hospice of Little Traverse Bay’s Hiland Cottage in Petoskey.
Neither he, nor his wife, Ellen, thought he would survive.
“I just figured I was going to die because that’s what you think happens when you go to hospice,” Mikesell told the News-Review in April. “But then something changed.”
Ten days after he was admitted, he began taking on small challenges, his outlook changed, he felt he was going to live.
On Dec. 31, 2010, Mikesell graduated from hospice.
“The whole perception is that when you go into hospice, you’ve given up. That’s just not the case,” said Nancy Martin, president and CEO of VitalCare, which includes Hospice of Little Traverse Bay.
There are different levels of hospice care, including home care; care in hospice facilities; and respite care at a facility or in the hospital.
In addition to medical and pain relief services, hospice also offers counseling and pastoral care.
Martin believes hospice is a seriously under-utilized focus of care, not just here in Northern Michigan, but around the country.
“Hospice is for care of an illness that is no longer curable. It promotes quality of life during the end of life care process,” Martin explained. “It helps the patient live a better quality of life and focuses on pain management and symptom control, along with care of that person’s family as well.”
Patients come to hospice by way of referral, either by the patient themselves, their family or by hospital staff.
“There comes a time when you have to have the crucial conversation — when doctors and medical staff have done as much as they can on the cure side, and you need to move to the care and comfort side because curing is not an option,” Martin explained.
Hospice is staffed by nurses, social workers and volunteers. The national average for a length of stay in hospice is 20-25 days and is generally paid for through Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurers.
In addition to pain and symptom management, hospice also offers counseling and support groups, bereavement services, and many have lending libraries for members of the community with literature and other media materials to offer insight on how to deal with loss and grief.
And while it is rare, some hospice patients, like Mikesell, do graduate from the program.
Mikesell now volunteers his time working with patients at Hiland Cottage. He said he views death as part of life, not as an event that should be feared.
“My experience with hospice is something that is hard for me to talk about without getting teared up, but I want to share my experience in the hopes of helping others,” he said. “I don’t plan on dying for a long time, but when I do, I think I’ll do it more gracefully and with more poise than I would without having gone through hospice.”
“Getting people to know and utilize hospice to its fullest extent is just an education and awareness issue that we need to keep working on,” Martin added. “So many families could benefit from hospice, but if nobody is talking about it, it’s not something they automatically think of as an option.”
For more information on services available for seniors, contact these local organizations:
Charlevoix County Commission on Aging www.charlevoixcounty.org, (866) 428-5185
Friendship Centers of Emmet County www.emmetcoa.org, Petoskey (231) 347-3211, Brutus (231) 529-8803, Pellston (231) 539-8201
Health Department of Northwest Michigan www.nwhealth.org, (800) 432-4121
Hospice of Michigan www.hom.org or (888) 247-5701
Hospice of Northwest Michigan www.hospicenwm.org or (800) 551-4140
Hospice of Little Traverse Bay, Hospice of the Straits, Hospice of Sunrise Shore are all part of Northern Michigan Regional Health System.
www.northernhealth.org or (800) 342-7711
VitalCare Adult Day Center
www.vitalcare.org or (231) 348-0771