Madeleine Boatwright’s hair is carefully coiffed but her voice is strained as she talks to Vicki Beatty about the struggle she had breathing the last couple of nights at Lake Crossing Health Center.
“I had a real bad problem the night before,” said Boatwright, 78.
“It’s those times they are supposed to call me,” Beatty said. “I don’t want you to be struggling out here.”
It is her job as a nurse for St. Joseph Hospice to make sure Boatwright, who has end-stage lung disease, is as comfortable and at ease as possible. It recently earned Beatty some national recognition. She was the Georgia representative in the National Association for Home Care & Hospice search for the best home care and hospice nurses. The 33,000-member group honored Beatty and the others in May in its Caring magazine.
She began her nursing in a very different kind of field, in critical care.
“I liked the excitement, just the aggressiveness of it all,” Beatty said. “But then you kind of, over the years, see a bigger picture.”
That’s what she likes about hospice.
“You are taking care of the whole patient and their family, everybody that is involved in their life, instead of taking care of just their lungs, just their heart,” Beatty said. “You really see the patient as a person.”
Much of what she does in hospice, where patients typically have less than six months to live, is not medical.
“We do pain and symptom management but there are so many other kinds of pain other than physical – emotional, spiritual, social – that we try to provide comfort for also,” Beatty said. “A lot of times, once you get them out of the emotional pain or the spiritual pain, the physical pain is eased naturally.”
It also means dealing with the family’s pain as well.
“The patient feels their pain, also,” Beatty said. “So it is all inter-related. If you can calm the family and help them to be comfortable and accepting and at ease, then the patient usually will be much more comfortable and at ease.”
As she talks to Boatwright in her room at Lake Crossing, Beatty sits in a chair opposite her, nodding sympathetically as she talks and laughing when Boatwright cracks jokes. Beatty spoke to Boatwright’s daughter about the breathing problems and the daughter then asked her mother why she hadn’t come clean about it with her.
“She said, ‘Mom, when were you going to tell me?’ ” Boatwright said. “And I said, ‘It goes through the grapevine,’ ” as Beatty laughed. Much of their conversation is about trying to make Boatwright more comfortable.
“You probably need to increase your (breathing) treatments to four times a day from two times a day,” Beatty said. “Do you think you need to have the Ativan more often?”
The Ativan is for anxiety and it is common for people who struggle to breathe, or fear they will begin struggling to breathe, to suffer from anxiety, Beatty said.
Some of the conversation has nothing to do with medicine. Boatwright has a picture of two great-grandsons, one aged 10 and one aged 2, up on her wall.
“The 2-year-old looks like he could get into some stuff,” Beatty said.
“He’s not so bad,” Boatwright said. “No, they’re so precious.”
Part of what Beatty does with her patients is a life review, looking back on the life they had.
“That helps people go back and remember all the good things that have happened in their lives,” she said. “So they’re not just dwelling on the last few months of sometimes torture, depending on what their situation is.”
It also means she has to be flexible.
“You have to be whatever the patient needs or whatever the family needs,” Beatty said. “Sometimes that is just a quiet person not really doing a whole lot but just being there for support and sometimes it is someone that they can call 24/7 and just talk to.”
She can also say she has had her own brush with those needs. Last October, she was diagnosed with breast cancer the week before she was to start work at St. Joseph. Beatty went through two surgeries and radiation treatment that finished up in January.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I kind of went through my own little journey. Not nearly what my patients go through, but I got a little taste of what they have to deal with. I think it gave me a much better understanding of the feelings of anger and frustration.”
Now, “When (patients) talk about radiation, how horrible that was, I can say truly, you know I understand, I can relate to that.”
As Beatty leaves Boatwright, she lingers a little and they sound like friends ending a chat.
“It’s good to see you, Vicki,” Boatwright said.
“It’s good to see you too, Sweetie,” Beatty said. “I’ll see you soon.”