Heather Hall didn’t start her career as a hospice nurse. She began like so many others, as a young nurse with aspirations to help those in need. What ultimately drew her to hospice was a series of personal tragedies that, over the course of time, revealed to her a calling unlike any other. Her personal experiences have inspired her work and driven her to excel in one of the world’s most difficult professions.
Her father was diagnosed with melanoma
Hall’s first experience was sudden and unexpected. Her father developed an aggressive form of melanoma, and within just a few short months, he lost his battle with the cancer.
“He was diagnosed with melanoma that summer and we lost him in Dec. 3 (in 1999). I was only 24,” Hall explained. “I was working as a nurse and so new to all of my skills that it was confusing to me to separate myself from my nursing judgement and the feelings of a daughter. I will never forget the hospice nurse that took me aside and told me to not think about all the medical things I knew and what was happening, just be their for my father only as his daughter.”
This first experience with a hospice nurse deeply affected hall. She wanted to help, to act. But the reality of her father’s illness was that there was nothing to do other than to comfort him. His hospice nurse helped to guide their family toward acceptance and peace.
“That really touched me and made me feel the need to help others through the hardest times in their life,” said Hall.
Her grandmother’s health declined from heartbreak
Tragedy struck again less than a year later when Hall’s grandmother, heartbroken from the loss of her son, declined in health with unusual rapidity. Hall was there, too, for the end. In fact, it was her decision to decide when to pull the proverbial plug.
“The following year, I lost my grandmother. My dad was her only child, and her heart was broken. She had a very bad fall and sustained a very bad brain bleed. She was put on life support,” Hall explained. “I had to have her taken off life support. I am still in awe that at 25, I stayed with my grandmother and held her hand and talked to her until she took her last breath.”
In her grandmother’s final moments, Hall experienced something profound. She discovered within herself a higher calling, one which would change the course of her career.
“It truly felt like my whole purpose in life had come full circle as I watched her take her last breaths,” Hall explained. “I spent so much of my nursing career helping others with that very same loss. It made me realize that we all will experience losses in our lifetime, but the compassion we show each other and how we help one another through these hard times is what really matters the most. Having experienced the losses in my life, as hard as they have been, has made me a better nurse.”
Hall has been honored as a hospice nurse
Janice Fiorello’s mother, one of Hall’s patients, recently nominated her for the Salute to Nurses. It is a high honor to be nominated for such an award and an indication of Hall’s exceptional compassion and dedication to her profession.
“She was my mom’s hospice nurse from September until my mom passed two weeks ago,” said Fiorello. “My mom was looking forward to watching the voting for her, but the voting didn’t start until after she passed.”
Jo Richmond, charge nurse in the hospice program at Aultman Hospital where Hall works, explained, “She has the gift of compassion and goes out of her way to meet the needs of her patients and their family.”
Original Interview by Denise Sautters, staff writer for CantonRep.com