It can be difficult to talk about grief, dying and hospice care. And when a loved one is terminally ill, or in the process of their final journey, making care choices for support can be overwhelming. Dr. Kelle Brogan reflects on the comfort of a peaceful passage and how she came to be an end-of-life doctor.
“I actually feel more like the sub specialty of hospice and palliative medicine chose me rather than me choosing it,” shares Kelle Brogan, M.D., Section Chief Medical Director, Renown Hospice & Palliative Medicine. “As I reflect back over the last 30 years I could have taken many different paths.”
The background motivation for her career choice was taking care of her mom, who developed a brain tumor, when she was in medical school. “My dad and I and my brothers managed her care in Carson City pretty much alone and it was pretty devastating for us,” she explained. That struggle led to her current career.
“It’s very humbling going into another human being’s home when they’re vulnerable and they’re needing me to help them feel comfortable,” Dr. Brogan observes. “We all have to leave eventually and from my perspective watching people pass away…this is the way to do it. Hospice is for everybody that has a life-limiting illness regardless of age, as well as insurance, or financial ability to pay.”
The Comfort of Compassionate Care
Dr. Brogan believes hospice support improves quality of life. “The team of people that provide hospice care are specifically trained to keep people comfortable,” she notes. “My team is like my family. We have a wonderful relationship. It’s just a very tight, unified, caring, compassionate group of people.”
Hospice support for a loved one has its benefits. “Whether it’s in the patient’s home or it’s in a skilled nursing facility, a group home or in the hospital, there’s continuity of care and continuity of medication usage. It’s just better overall. Not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually,” she adds.
Dr. Brogan concedes this is a topic people do not want to think about. “There’s this word called Thanatophobia, which is fear of death,” she explains. “I think it’s pretty normal for humans to have that. And I would rather be in my own home. I’d rather my kids coming to visit me occasionally. I’d rather have my dachshund on my bed with me – you know, just the sights, the smells, the sounds of my own house, in and of themselves are healing.”
The Importance of Saying Goodbye
The needs of those in hospice go beyond the physical. “A patient doesn’t just have physical symptoms – they have psychosocial and emotional symptoms as well. I see considerable dignity and peace in our patients. I see families come together,” she says. “With the support of hospice, families discover that they’re able to manage the emotional piece as well, because they have someone to go to.”
“And they often surprise themselves at just how strong they are. I’ve seen young adult children take care of mom and mom is resisting, but the kids are saying, ‘You took care of me, now it’s our turn to take care of you,’” she adds.
“So sometimes it can be very difficult to process the passing of an individual,” Dr. Brogan says. “You never know who you are going to become attached to. It will surprise you sometimes.” Dr. Brogan carries the loving memories of her patients in a special way. “The tattoos that I have are actually in memory of the patients that I lost. They’re just always with me.”
She says death can give us strength and teach us valuable lessons. “We learn about life, we learn about love, we learn about the fact that people who think they can’t care for their loved ones do an amazing job. Being around end-of-life can be sad, however I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to participate with it because I think that it’s made me appreciate life so much more.”
Renown Hospice Care provides compassionate expertise and support to meet the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of patients and families.