Whenever Julie Shindel, MSW would visit her 94-year-old patient Donald Murtagh to provide BAYADA Hospice services, she’d walk in and find him playing video poker on his computer. Inevitably he’d have to stop playing to talk to Julie, but you could tell he didn’t want to.
When Julie did her standard “life review” with Mr. Murtagh, a resident of Landenberg, PA, only then did she realize that poker meant a whole lot more to him than just a pastime. The life review is at the center of BAYADA Hospice services; it’s their way to help patients prepare for a peaceful end of life by exploring what goals and experiences are most important to them, what can bring them the most joy now, and what personal relationships may need some time and care to make sure that nothing important goes left unsaid. Then the BAYADA Hospice team supports the patient in making their wishes come true.
It came out in his life review that before his heart disease progressed, Mr. Murtagh was very active in his local poker clubs. Poker was a major, fun part of his social life for a long time, and you could tell he missed it very much. Julie noticed that whenever he talked about his games with the poker club, his whole face would light up into an exuberant smile.
Mr. Murtagh confided in Julie that one thing he would love to do is have a big poker game in his living room, with his family. Julie didn’t hesitate to figure out the logistics. She immediately told him she was going to make that happen. He just looked incredulously at her and shook his head. He didn’t believe it.
A week later, another social worker on his BAYADA care team, Keri Painter, MSW, told them about a company she knew that provides in-home poker parties. Julie contacted them, ironed out the details, and helped Mr. Murtagh choose a date with his family. Julie exclaimed with a laugh, “He was even delighted with the planning process!” Cindy Scott, the director of the BAYADA Hospice office in Media, PA, submitted a request to the BAYADA Foundation and received a grant to pay for the party. Everything was set. This was really happening!
On a mild, sunny December afternoon, Mr. Murtagh and his wife welcomed into their home their sons Paul and Jeff, son-in-law Gary, BAYADA Hospice social workers Julie and Keri, and bereavement coordinator Melissa Robinson. Everyone had a grand ol’ time playing poker, talking, laughing, and enjoying their food and drinks—and they played all day until the sun went down.
“I’ll never forget at the end of the night, Mr. Murtagh looked at me with a huge smile on his face, gave me a big hug, and thanked me for making his wish come true,” Julie recalled with great emotion. “Making him happy makes me so happy!” These simple, joyful moments with loved ones are what life is all about!