34 Rewarding Years as a Hospice Nurse
After 34 years as a nurse with The Denver Hospice, Eileen Howerzyl is retiring. She leaves knowing her work has helped countless families navigate one of life’s most challenging passages. She leaves excited about the new adventures ahead. And she leaves deeply grateful to the family who has supported her all along the way.
“When I began in hospice care, my children were small – from nine to three. All four grew up knowing I might be called away at any time. It was hard for them, and for my husband Jim. But we all knew this was an important thing for me to be doing.”
“In those early years,” Eileen continues, “I worked for Boulder County Hospice and we were involved in a federal demonstration project – one of only 10 in the nation – designed to prove hospice care should be covered by Medicare.”
She laughs, “On one of my early resumes, I listed that I didn’t want to do elder or psychiatric nursing. And here I’ve spent my career doing both! Which proves you should never make decisions about what you don’t want.”
When Eileen joined what is now The Denver Hospice, “it was small – we only had about 25 to 35 patients at a time – and things were pretty loose. At that time, The Hospice of St. John did all the inpatient care and we did the in-home.
“In the old days, we nurses did everything – regular patient care, helping in billing and all. I’m very thankful that The Denver Hospice has allowed me to serve in various areas.”
So what does Eileen feel has made her a good hospice nurse?
“I’m a problem-solver by nature,” she says. “Caring for people and helping them solve problems is my gift, and I find it very rewarding.”
“As an admission nurse, I’m always stepping into an unknown situation. We never know what kind of family or patient we’ll be seeing. So walking in and trying to get a sense of that is important. Admissions has a lot of bits and pieces – the medical history, insurance, medical power of attorney and more paperwork. Then we get to move on to solving the patient piece: What is your biggest concern for today?”
“So often, as I’m leaving, either the patient or a family member will say, ‘I was so scared when I knew you were coming. What a relief this has been.’ I think that’s because part of what we do is simply accept that dying is okay. That how they’re feeling is okay. Whatever they want to talk about, we’re ready. And we will keep this individual comfortable – that’s one of our skills.”
So, after decades of long days and working weekends, Eileen is eager to begin her next chapter. “I have a skydiving coupon I have to use before the end of July,” she chuckles. International travel is also on the horizon, as her past journeys to Croatia, Italy, Spain, Morocco and India have opened new vistas. In 2008, she was part of The Denver Hospice’s mission trip to assist its sister organization in Tanzania.
“And I’ll probably do some volunteer nursing, at some point,” Eileen says.
Clearly, her caring has come full circle.