As he sits in the kitchen of his Lake City farm home, Dwight Dial is surrounded by items that remind him of his loved ones: a barometer his mother passed down to him from Swedish ancestors, photos on the fridge of children and grandchildren, embroidered wall hangings completed by his beloved wife, Jane. It’s a comfortable room in a sprawling farmhouse, but at the moment, it’s quiet. The only sound in the house is Dwight’s voice as he remembers three people he lost within three years.
His father, Gerald, was a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber during World War II in the European theater. He flew 36 missions and was featured in a book written about the “Flying Fortress.” Gerald rarely discussed his experiences with his family, who only came to realize the dangers he had faced when they read the book. “We told each other we’re lucky to be here!” recalls Dwight.
After the war, Gerald returned to the farm and married Alice Ann. Together, they raised seven children and tended the land. When he was 85, a lifetime of smoking resulted in a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. In 2009, he began to utilize Community Hospice at Stewart Memorial Community Hospital (SMCH) in Lake City. Hospice is a special kind of care that brings terminally ill patients and their families comfort, support and compassion in a manner that respects and cherishes the dignity and uniqueness of each individual. When cure is no longer possible, hospice can provide highly skilled care to patients and their families in the familiar surroundings of their own home or residence, including nursing homes.
Dwight recalls, “The nurses would come to the house to take care of him. My parents were very private, but I think my folks shared more of their personal lives with them than they did with their children.” He was impressed with the level of care his father received at the hands of the hospice team. “At one point, my father decided to stop going to see his doctor for checkups. The nurses communicated with his physician who then made a housecall. Together they decided to let mom continue to take care of Dad in their home with the help of the hospice nurses. When he passed on December 6, 2013, his last words to mom were ‘I’m glad you kept me at home.’”
In May 2011, Dwight and Jane were visiting their son in Alabama who was preparing for his third tour of duty in Iraq. They were playing with their grandson when Jane suddenly said to Dwight, “Something’s not right inside.” When the couple returned home Jane made an appointment with her primary care provider Nancy Flink, certified physician assistant. Tests revealed that Jane had ovarian cancer. Dr. Marc Miller performed surgery in June and Jane, a long-time Nutrition Services Director at SMCH, began chemotherapy at the hospital that felt like home.
On August 28, 2013 the couple celebrated their anniversary with dinner, margaritas and laughter. Dwight recalls that it was their last meal together. A few days later, Jane was taken to Des Moines to receive care from her oncologist where she stayed until October. When she was able to return to her home, she opted to do the next round of chemotherapy at the Lake City hospital, entering the hospice program at the same time. “Everyone at the hospital worked to make sure Jane was comfortable. The maintenance crew brought a hospital bed, then went and got a new mattress for it, while Bethany Morrow made sure Jane had new sheets and anything else she needed. Friends came to sing Christmas carols for us and later hung Valentine’s cards all over the walls,” says Dwight.
The hospice team helped with bathing Jane and medications. They trained Dwight on how to care for her ileostomy and how to give her nutrients through a port after she was unable to digest food. Dwight pauses for a long moment, “Jane passed away on December 26, 2013, 20 days after her father-in-law. She didn’t want to go before Dad and she didn’t want to go on Christmas day. That morning she said to me, ‘I made it.’” Softly, Dwight continues, “I told her it was okay for her to go, and she went.”
A few months passed and Dwight continued to farm. In June 2014, his mother, Alice Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer. Dr. Miller performed a mastectomy, but the disease had spread into her lymph nodes. “My mother was very strong. She went home and convalesced for a few weeks on her own and then began a series of 29 radiation treatments. After she completed 20, I took her to California to see her sister. When we returned she completed the last nine.”
Before Thanksgiving that year, Alice Ann acquired an infection and was hospitalized for 100 days. Dwight decided to take her home to his house where he could care for her. “The wound nurse showed me how to clean and pack her wound. The hospice nurses were also there to help care for Mom.” Throughout 2015, Alice Ann was in and out of the hospital but on December 5 she returned to the hospital for the final time. She told Dwight, “As soon as I’m well enough, I’m going to go to Shady Oaks.”
She reached that goal on December 9. “The hospice team was involved in mom’s care at the hospital and the nursing home,” says Dwight. “The communication, care and support flow so well from the SMCH hospice team. They bent over backwards to make the process as easy as possible for the family.” Alice Ann passed away on December 31, 2015.
Dwight is grateful for the care shown to Gerald, Alice Ann and Jane, “Hospice gave my loved ones the ability to live out their last days in dignity and love, surrounded by people who truly cared. They became our family during those very critical days. The sincerity this staff has is unquestionable. For the compassion they have for those that are leaving us and for the caregivers, I cannot thank them enough.”