South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday January 19, 2021

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December 2006 - Volume 3 - Issue 6

Bella Beech of Boca

Whenever she called her VITAS team manager, she identified herself as Bella Beech of Boca. And she called often. "Hello, Lori, this is Bella Beech of Boca."

She was 96 and had end-stage COPD and CHF, but she was fiercely independent and knew exactly what she wanted from hospice: To remain at home. To be a burden to no one. And not to have people staring at her as she died.

"And we did it," says Team Manager Lori Digiovanni-Segal. "Bella was a patient with VITAS for just over a year, and she died on her own terms."

After their initial phone call, Lori expected to meet a little old woman. But Bella was tall, thin and well dressed. Too proud to be seen in public with facial scarring due to cancer and her ever-present oxygen, she shut herself into—and others out of—her apartment in an independent living facility. But she let her hospice team into her house and her heart.

She saw her nurse three times a week and her CNA five times a week. She saw her chaplain and her social worker. She saw several Paw Pals volunteers, who would bring their big dogs to visit. (Once the owner of horses, Bella loved big dogs, but there was no room in her life for little dogs.)

And she saw Lori. In fact, she called Lori every day: "Hello Lori, this is Bella Beech of Boca." If she didn’t call Lori, Lori called her.

"Sometimes she had questions, but a lot of the visits and calls were social—pro-active," says Lori. "When we kept in touch with Bella, there were fewer emergent calls at night. She was feisty and she pushed people away, but she was lonely. And she was anxious when she had breathing difficulty."

So Bella had phone numbers she could call, and a string of visitors. Her CNA came every day at noon with lunch for them both. Lori would bring doughnuts and coffee when she came. "We connected," she says. "She was dear to my heart."

About a year after she came onto hospice, the team decided Bella might do better with a dose of 24-hour attention, and called in the continuous care team. Sick as she was, Bella wouldn’t have it; they were hovering, and she threw them out. Not long after, she fell and was hospitalized for stitches in her head. When she awoke she demanded to go home, and her team agreed—if Bella would allow them to bring in the continuous care team.

"I called the next morning to see how her trip home had gone," says Lori, "and I knew it was a bad sign when the nurse answered the phone; Bella always answered her own phone. When I got Bella on the phone I said, ‘Hi Bella Beech of Boca, it’s Lori.’ And she said, ‘Do I know you?’

"It was very upsetting," Lori admits. "Bella had always put a smile on my face, and now she didn’t know who I was." A few days later, Bella Beech of Boca died. "But we did it," Lori says. "Bella died at home and she was never a burden. We hovered a little at the end . . . but I don’t think she minded."

Susan Acocella, general manager of VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® of Palm Beach County, can be reached at 800-93-VITAS.
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