OTTUMWA — You'll be dead in six months, the doctor told her. And her town had no end-of-life care group.
"I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer," said Patti Cutler, the new hospice director on the Good Samaritan campus in Ottumwa.
Around the time her doctor gave her six months to live, another doctor was discussing the philosophy of hospice with some health care professionals. That included Cutler, who was a registered nurse. She took up the challenge. In 1986, she started a hospice program in Hampton, Iowa.
"I really wanted hospice in my community because I thought ... I might need it," she said Friday.
The fact that Cutler's doctor was wrong doesn't detract from the path the frightening pronouncement put her on.
"I've been with hospice ever since," she said. "I really believe in the mission of hospice and what we can do for the patient and their family to make those last days, weeks or months meaningful."
Her job prior to coming to Good Sam was as the director of Wesley Life Hospice in Urbandale. Before that, she directed the hospice she had organized in Hampton. The new director moved into her new Ottumwa house last weekend, a thought that raised another point. One misconception she has seen among everyday people is that "hospice" is a home or some other building.
"Hospice is a philosophy of patient comfort and quality of life," Cutler said. "We provide care wherever that person calls home … [most] people would rather be at home. Hospice uses a whole interdisciplinary team approach to address the needs of the patient and their family."
Did she mean to keep mentioning the family?
"Yes. What we say in hospice is when we admit the patient, we admit the family," she said.
A health care professional looks out for the patient's physical needs while a social worker helps guide the patient or their loved ones through the emotional storm brought about by the realization that this person, perhaps the center of their world, is dying.
So there is also a spiritual care counselor who helps with matters of the spirit; if, for one individual, that doesn't involve religion or spirit, Cutler says the professional will help find peace with emotions rising from "whatever that person feels gives them life."
Then there are the volunteers, who may visit a patient, play music or, in one case, take the patient to see a horse. And while the horse was a big deal for that patient, it's the volunteers that add something special.
"They really are that human touch in hospice," Cutler said.
It takes a special kind of person to work with others who are going to die soon, she acknowledges, but added that many jobs require a special kind of person.
"Thank God we're all different," she said. "For me, hospice is the ministry I'm called to in my life. And I think most hospice [personnel] feel the same way. Hospice isn't a job as much as it is a ministry."
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark