Following a cancer diagnosis and the necessary amputation of his left shoulder and arm, Scott Reed began to suffer from extreme phantom pain attacks. Scott’s doctor suggested they seek palliative care, a decision that would ultimately allow Scott to live out his remaining years with eased suffering, allowing him to fully participate in his final years with family.
“When I was a general internist, I started to take care of patients whose chronic illnesses became terminal. Medically there were no further options. One patient in particular that I was treating for end-stage heart failure kept going back and forth to the hospital. She would spend weeks at a time hospitalized. On a hospital follow-up visit I asked her what her goals were. “She dreaded going back to the hospital and indicated she just wanted to spend time with her family. What I knew about hospice at the time was from a month I spent with Dr. Mulder as a resident. I knew that hospice shifted the focus of care from curative to more of a comfort approach. We had a good discussion that day and she stated she would like to know more about hospice. I arranged an informational meeting and was notified shortly thereafter that the patient decided to enroll. Because I was in a busy practice, I decided to turn over care to the hospice medical director at the time.
“A few months later my sons were being baptized at our church and our family was up on the stage. The service was completed, and I found myself talking with a friend in the front of the church afterwards. A woman was waiting to talk to me, one whom I did not recognize. When my conversation ended, she approached me and asked, ‘Would you happen to be Dr. Voorhees?’ I stated I was. She began to become emotional. She said, ‘You don’t know who I am, but you took care of my mother. You talked to her about her life goals and offered her hospice. She died peacefully a few weeks after that. I just wanted to tell you that I along with my family are eternally thankful for the time that we were able to spend with her.’
“On the way home I told my wife what had just transpired. Little did I know that this encounter would ignite a passion in me for helping patients at the end of life. I began to reflect on my short time as a resident with Dr. Mulder. My reflection brought back memories of the compassionate care and relief of suffering that he provided to his patients. I knew that he had started a fellowship program, and he and his partners would be the mentors I needed to pursue this calling. With encouragement from my wife, I reached out to him and he actually asked if I would meet him for lunch to discuss the program. After the meeting I was elated about the opportunity to apply and join the program. This would set me off on a profound journey.
“The time I spent as a hospice and palliative care fellow was probably the most meaningful year of my career. The fellowship has blessed my life in ways I never thought possible. I am not only a better physician because of it, but I feel that I am a better human. Having this training particularly at Trillium Woods allowed me to answer my true calling. Currently I am the medical director of a hospice with an inpatient unit. My training not only fueled my passion for hospice and palliative care, but provided the sturdy foundation I needed to be successful at what I do. It is a great feeling to wake up each day doing what you love the most, making a difference in the lives of those in the last phase of their life.”
Justin Voorhees, MD