As Bonnie Zell sat next to her husband of more than 50 years and listened to his care team at Mayo Clinic delicately explain there was nothing medically left they could do to treat his progressive heart failure, she knew what was next. "I worked as a hospice nurse for Mayo Clinic for almost 10 years," Bonnie tells us. "I knew that's where we were going."
When they got there, however, Bonnie tells us the nursing team that was assigned to care for her husband, Glenn, helped give her a new appreciation for hospice care. "I can't say enough about them," Bonnie says. "They went above and beyond what I ever expected them to do. They truly cared about Glenn. That was evident in everything they did."
It was most evident, Bonnie tells us, in the way they interacted with Glenn and approached his care. "So many people have the wrong idea about hospice," Bonnie says. "It's not about dying, it's about living the life you have left to the fullest. And Glenn's team at Mayo Clinic went out of their way to do that for him."
Glenn's daughter, Kelly Zimmerman, a nurse at Mayo Clinic, tells us the biggest example of that came shortly after her father's hospice team learned one of his goals was to attend the wedding of her son, Chris Zimmerman. "He was the first of nine grandchildren to get married, and Dad really wanted to be here for that," Kelly tells us.
Glenn's hospice team really wanted him to be here for that, too. Kelly says they made it happen by banding together to not only make sure Glenn was able to attend the wedding but also feel well enough to dance one last slow dance with Bonnie.
"Leading up to the wedding, they did more in-home visits, worked more closely with his primary care provider and nurse practitioner, gave him oxygen he could travel with, and adjusted his medications to give him more energy," Kelly says. "And I'll tell you what, we thought it was touch-and-go there so many times, but in the end he was not only able to go to the wedding but also stay overnight in the hotel with the rest of our family. It was incredibly special to have him there."
Sadly, Glenn would pass away just three weeks later. When he did, Kelly says his hospice team continued their care. "They came to his wake, they came to his funeral," she says. "They were there for him through the end. They were more than care providers. They were friends."
Friends who Bonnie says gave her one of the greatest gifts of all: the freedom to be Glenn's wife rather than his care provider throughout his final days. "That was important to me," she says. "Glenn learned to trust them. He loved them. They allowed him to die peacefully and with dignity."
Glenn's hospice nurse practitioner Emily Black tells us that's the foundation of Mayo's hospice program. “Glenn’s story is definitely what we always strive for hospice care to be — a personalized experience that focuses on living the best life possible until the moment of death," she says.
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