My name is Paul Ragnoli. I am an average, middle-aged father of two teenage daughters, husband to a loving, caring wife and owner of three dogs. I’d like to share with you how, through the Hospice Program at Henry Ford Health System, a bunch of caring, devoted caregivers gave my mother, Mia Ragnoli, one last gift before she died. They touched my mother’s life and my own.
My mother was a beautiful, healthy, vibrant, loving immigrant, who came to America in 1953 at the age of 27 after marrying my father in Italy. She loved cooking, gardening, bowling, America and most of all being a mother. Family was the most important thing in her life. She always took care of her health; she didn’t smoke or drink, always watched what she ate and at 77 years of age went to the doctor every two weeks.
This year on the last day of February everything in her life and mine took a turn for the worse.
My mother called me on a Saturday morning complaining that she didn’t feel well -- that something seemed wrong. After listening to her symptoms, I realized she was having a stroke.
Over the next four weeks she would have a heart attack and another four strokes, the last of which would leave her paralyzed on her right side. She was bedridden, barely able to speak and mostly blind. Her doctor said my mother had pancreatic and liver cancer, one of the most aggressive and deadly forms known. My mother was going to die. The doctor suggested we take her home and make her as comfortable as possible and enjoy the few remaining days we had left with her.
After the initial shock and denial, that I know everyone goes through, I knew we, as a family, had to make some very quick decisions. The most important and immediate concern was for my mother.
What were we going to do? How were we going to manage?
Our doctor suggested the Henry Ford Hospice program. We needed to get her home right away.
The next day I was put in contact with Debbie, a hospice nurse. My mom lived in Warren and their staff being close by would care for my mom. It was almost 7:30 pm before my mom finally arrived home, but when I called Debbie, she came right over. I’m sure it was well past her shift.
Debbie quickly evaluated my mother. She set up a schedule for home care, visits from a social worker and a spiritual advisor. The following Monday, a whole army of people showed up. Debbie, Bonnie, a social worker, Rida, a nurse’s aide and a spiritual advisor all converged on our home. They were not surprised to see my mother had improved dramatically. She was sitting up in bed, smiling, eating and enjoying her family at home. They see it often. Patients in the Hospice program often improve when they come home.
During the course of the next few weeks, we were able share many memorable moments; my mom had visitors, we talked about our trip to Italy from a few years earlier, and she listened to her beloved Tigers. Mostly we were just together.
Hospice was the glue that held us all together. They did all the difficult work so we could enjoy being with mom. They bathed her, washed her hair and changed her bedding. Most of all, they had a smile on their faces and nothing but kind and encouraging words. They were the safety net for this juggling act we were attempting to pull off. If we ran out of medication, they delivered. If we had an emergency, they responded. When we had questions, they had answers.
When we needed a shoulder, they had two.
When my mother passed away on April 20th, it was the saddest day of my life. But our sadness was tempered knowing and feeling we gave our mom her final gift, a present that Hospice was able to gift-wrap for us. We were able to take care of her like she used to do for us.