Follow The Republic:
Janis Stillinger counts on helpers from Our Hospice of South Central Indiana each day to assist her with routine daily tasks she once took for granted.
With advanced Parkinson’s disease, Stillinger, 74, no longer can walk and has lost some control in her arms and hands.
Nurse assistants from the hospice program come to her Columbus home each Monday through Friday morning. They help her shower and dress.
With the nursing care comes friendship and boosted spirits for Stillinger, a self-proclaimed “people person,” who worked for many years at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. She also was a volunteer at Columbus Regional Hospital.
“They’re wonderful people. They laugh and have a good time,” Stillinger’s husband of 56 years, Larry, said about the nurse assistants.
Once a week, a hospice volunteer also comes to visit Stillinger, doing whatever she likes, whether it’s just chatting, running an errand or fixing a meal.
One special project touched the heart of the Columbus couple.
Leona Eldridge, a former hospice volunteer, helped Stillinger sort through old photos of the couple, who were high school sweethearts, to create a memory book.
Enough copies were printed to give to their children, Leesa Coopman, David Stillinger, Amy Neale and Bob Stillinger. The couple also have 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Her newest volunteer, Sandy Sherman, said she enjoys the roughly two hours a week she spends with Stillinger and learned very quickly of her kindness and sense of humor, despite her trying circumstances. Sherman said they talk and share laughs about simple things.
“I like volunteering because I like helping people,” said Sherman, who also likes to offer friendship to caregivers as well.
Sandy Carmichael, president of Our Hospice of South Central Indiana, said the organization tries its best to find good matches with volunteers and patients. A new effort tries to pair volunteers and patients who are both veterans.
About 250 volunteers work with many of the 200 hospice patients the organization serves each day in the 15-county region.
What volunteers do with patients depends on the patients and families, Carmichael said. It might include helping to weed a tomato bed, going to the grocery store, fixing a meal or just sitting and talking.
Larry Stillinger said Sherman might sit with his wife for a chat or allow him an opportunity to run to the store, since he doesn’t like to leave her alone.
All of the help from hospice has made the new, mostly homebound life for the Stillingers easier to bear.
Stillinger was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about five years ago, and the disease progressed slowly at first, then more rapidly the past two years.
Parkinson’s is a chronic, progressive brain disorder in which certain nerve cells become impaired. The cells, which produce dopamine, allow smooth, coordinated function of the body’s muscles and movement.
Janis Stillinger’s form of Parkinson’s, called multisystem atrophy, has created a range of physical challenges, including making it difficult to speak. She uses a microphone from a karaoke machine as a makeshift speaking tool to increase the volume of her now-soft speech.
She misses being able to write, type on a computer or do tasks she enjoyed, such as crafts, and has learned to adapt to simple things, such as drinking using a cup with a lid and straw.
Larry Stillinger, who serves as her primary caregiver, also has figured out creative ways to make life easier, such as putting in more grab bars in the bathroom, removing carpeting and enlarging a hallway. He said he doesn’t mind.
“The hardest thing is picking out what she’ll wear in the morning,” he said with a smile.
Janis Stillinger said the volunteers and nurse assistants help with anything she asks and have allowed her to stay in her home, which is very important to her.
“You can pretend you’re OK when you’re at home,” she said.
Janis Stillinger understands, however, that her disease is progressing and appreciates how supportive hospice can be for someone in a situation like hers.
“It’s a great organization,” she said. “So many people don’t understand how it works, and it’s not just for the very end of life.”
Janis and Larry Stillinger have been documenting many of the challenges they have faced and found ways to cope. They said they hope what they’ve learned in their journey will be able to help others.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
Note: All comments left on our sites are first reviewed by an automated comment moderation system. Your comment may take up to 5 minutes to appear. If for any reason your comment can not be approved you will receive an email from this system with a detailed explanation.
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.