One Nurse’s Remarkable Journey to Help Others on Hospice
Aug. 8, 2022
By Danielle Andersen
Hospice offers quality of life when patients need it most, former ICU nurse says
After more than two decades of working as a nurse in the intensive care unit, Pam Forer decided she wanted to take her career in a different direction and have a greater impact on people’s lives. She wanted to work in hospice. “It was quite a long journey because I’ve been a nurse for a very long time, almost 30 years,” she said. “I always admired hospice and their philosophy. And then my mom got sick.”
As an ICU nurse she had worked closely with hospice nurses and appreciated the options it provided people. She respected the comfort, the quality of life and the support for their families. In many instances, she could see its benefits.
In the months before the pandemic, her mother, who had been in a nursing home for dementia, got very ill with sepsis.
“[It was] a pretty bad illness and we decided to go on hospice,” she said. “I was so impressed with the support that it gave me as a daughter, and the comfort that it brought to my mother, that I knew I had to make a change in my career.”
‘Meant to be’
Throughout her life, Forer had often followed the signs to where she was needed. As a student at Bemidji State University, she decided to pursue nursing after taking an advanced first aid course to join the Nordic ski patrol.
“I decided – Hey, I can do this. I can help people. And I’m good at it,” she said.
A similar moment followed the passing of her mother. Forer noticed an advertisement for Knute Nelson, which carried special significance.
“When I was a young girl, I applied for a scholarship and Knute Nelson gave me a very nice scholarship back when I graduated from high school,” she said. “It was just like OK, this was meant to be, I’m going to go into hospice at Knute Nelson and I have not regretted it since Day One.”
That was about a year and a half ago.
“The atmosphere and the teamwork and the support we give each other is so amazing and fulfilling,” she said. “Every patient has their own unique story, and I feel like hospice gives them the dignity they deserve for their life stories.”
More than a nurse – a friend
Patients have access to hospices nurses 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this role, Forer does physical assessments and coordinates with a patient’s primary physician, but there is another facet – having a more personal connection with patients and their families.
“I had a very dear patient who was 93 years young and we both loved nature and birds,” she said. “We were friends, truly friends.”
Over a Zoom call during the pandemic, Pam and the patient had made plans to have a pizza party when they could see each other again. “We had a pizza party and it was lovely,” she said.
Shortly after, the patient started to decline. “I reassured her that I would be there for her and make sure that she was comfortable. I told her, whenever I see a pileated woodpecker, I’m going to think of you,” Forer explained. “And by gosh, that day that she died, what did I see? A pileated woodpecker.”
A place for peace
Another benefit to hospice is the support it provides families. Forer has experienced it on both sides, as a nurse and as a daughter.
“I recently lost my dad. He had a long hospitalization and then developed pneumonia,” she said. “I took one look at my dad when he was discharged and I knew. I said, ‘Dad, what do you want?’ And he said, ‘I have to be comfortable and I miss your mom. I want to see her again.’ ”
Her father chose Knute Nelson Hospice.
“Once he was on hospice, he slept for the first time in three weeks – for five hours – with the comfort medication that we were able to give him and he woke up and he said, ‘This is wonderful.’ And that, the peace in his face, I knew it was just such the right thing to do,” she said.
For Forer, hospice has done more than provide a rewarding career change.
“I learned more about me and my place in the world doing this kind of work. And how humbling it is and how thankful I am for what I have in my life,” she said. “When I take care of all these patients, they teach me so much.”
Learn more about Knute Nelson Hospice.