Carol Owens has been a member of Team Magee for the past 23 years, helping patients and their families believe in a way back. She recently found herself on the other side: as a family member of a patient at Magee. Here’s her story.
It was a sunny and tropical day in late August, and I was in the happiest place on Earth, Disney World, when I received the phone call. My brother was calling to tell me that he had taken our 84-year-old mother out to dinner the night before. “Her color wasn’t good. She looked yellow,” he said. After hanging up the phone I turned to my friend who was traveling with us and said, “My mom has pancreatic cancer.” It would take 2 weeks, an emergency room visit, and a CT scan to confirm what I already knew in my gut.
Thankfully my mother was a candidate for a Whipple procedure, a complex surgery that involves removal of the tumor along with parts of the pancreas, intestine, stomach, and gall bladder. The surgery was a success, but the battle was just beginning for my mother. She came out of surgery with tubes in each arm, her neck, and her nose. After 12 days in acute care, she was medically stable enough to be transferred. The physical and occupational therapists, as well as the surgeon, recommended acute rehab. Upon hearing that recommendation, I immediately felt as if many arms were lifting us up. Acute rehab to me meant my mom would only go to one place — the place in which I have worked and grown up over the last 23 years: Magee Rehab.
My mother arrived at Magee very weak and on intravenous feeding. She was only walking about 40 feet with a walker, and she showed little interest in the things she usually enjoyed, including the crossword puzzle, reading or watching baseball on the television. She was not without motivation, and her goals were simple: she wanted to return to her own home living independently.
The wonderful team of doctors, nurses, therapists and nutritionists worked with her 3 hours a day for nearly 3 weeks. I was able to see her each day and watch the transformation as she slowly improved with her walking, balance, activities of daily living and eating. I knew we had turned the corner when she asked for her glasses so she could complete the crossword puzzle in the paper.
She returned home on October 24, exactly 2 months after that phone call from my brother. My siblings and I stayed with her for 3 days, and she announced that she felt strong enough and confident enough to stay on her own. There is no doubt in my mind that she would not have had that strength and confidence without the tremendous care she received at Magee.
It was interesting for me to be on the other side of the hospital experience. I was able to witness firsthand the procedures that we have put in place to improve patient satisfaction and quality of care, and they all make a big difference in the patient experience. The things that struck me even more were the little things that happened every day. The encouraging words, rubbing lotion on her skin to keep it supple, making sure she had whatever food she wanted each day as she adjusted to her new stomach, the gentle touch, the kind manner in which she was treated by all.
My mom is now half-way through chemotherapy, and I am very happy to report she is doing great. She has several months of treatment ahead of her, but she is ready to continue her fight in tip top shape thanks to everyone who had a hand in helping her back to independence at Magee. She is not only fighting, but more importantly, she is living a quality life after a devastating diagnosis. And that’s what believing in a way back is all about.