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November is National Family Caregiver Month and National Home Care and Hospice Month.

November is National Caregiver Month and National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. VNA of Ohio honors all who care for loved ones who cannot care for themselves. We see you and appreciate you. Thank you for letting us be a part of your journeys.

VNA of Ohio Hospice helps Parma caregiver through a long goodbye        

As the saying goes, “Just because you carry it well, doesn’t mean it is not heavy.”

This holds true for Paul Hlucky of Parma and so many caregivers who selflessly care for their loved ones every day.  

Hlucky cared for his wife Darla, who suffered from end-stage dementia while a patient of VNA of Ohio Hospice. The disease took Darla’s ability to speak, walk, and even eat. In fact, November marks the one-year anniversary of her death.

During those long days, Hlucky provided a rigorous comfort routine for Darla. No stranger to hard work, the retiree’s job building and repairing electric motors spanned 56 years, including many years managing the shop. But he never considered caring for his wife as work.

He fondly remembers the days before Darla got sick when they would go out to dinner and enjoyed vacations to 48 states and Canada together.

Due to her illness, Darla was nonverbal. Perhaps more challenging, she couldn’t smile or show emotion anymore. This symptom is not unusual for many Alzheimer’s patients who develop a mask-like facial expression.

“I had to figure everything out because she never could say a word,” he explained. “She could not show emotions - no smiling, so I never knew what she was feeling.”

Michelle Hollingsworth, RN, was Darla’s nurse -- and a key member of Hlucky’s support team. A VNA of Ohio Hospice nurse for 23 years, she said Hlucky was the best family caregiver she ever worked with.

“He took meticulous care of her. Her skin was perfect -- he moved her and cared for her so well,” she said.

Hollingsworth explained that moving a patient is crucial to ensure that too much pressure is not placed on any one area of the skin, which can lead to sores and possible infection. Not moving a patient also increases the risk for pneumonia and muscle atrophy. Hlucky says he moved Darla seven to nine times every day.

His daily routine always started with a visit from the VNA of Ohio home health aide who would help bathe and dress wife Darla. They would move her from her bed to a transport chair and bring her into the front room, where Hlucky would cover her with a blanket.

“I would always make sure that she was warm,” he said.

Providing her proper nutrition through her feeding tube followed through the day. Between all this, Darla would sleep most of the day.

“I would move her to a loveseat where she could sit so I could sit next to her for part of the day,” he said.

Hlucky was grateful for the support he had from the VNA of Ohio and says they were a bright light during those dark days.

“They’re angels,” he said. “I don’t know how I would have done it without them.

“I never had one bad one. Sometimes that was the only person I talked to all day,” he added.

Hollingsworth explained how Hlucky took advantage of all the hospice support services offered, including home health aides, social workers, nurses, spiritual care and visiting volunteers.

“We would try to stagger our visits so we could give him a break to go to the store or go to his own doctor appointments,” she said. “They also had massage therapy for Darla. He utilized all the services.

“Caregivers need to take care of themselves or they are going to get sick,” continued Hollingsworth. “Sadly, we have had caregivers pass away before the hospice patient just from getting run down. Some people just don’t have the back up.”

At age 90, Hlucky is now in treatment for colon cancer. Like too many caregivers, he did not get the medical care he needed while caring for Darla because he did not want to leave her alone.

“None of this was as bad as losing Darla,” added Hlucky.

In the end, the time came when the hospice team observed the signs of Darla’s body shutting down as they tried to help Hlucky prepare for her passing.

“He knew she was declining,” said Hollingsworth. “We talked about it for a long time, and said, ‘you need to be ready to let her go.’

“We can always help you prepare, but you are never prepared enough,” she added.