Peg Connolly, a home
hospice nurse with
Centura Home Care and Hospice, said she knew she wanted to be a nurse from a very young age.
"I always wanted to be a nurse – my mom was a nurse and my dad was a dentist, so they were medical people," Connolly said. "We grew up with Cherry Ames books on our shelves – we had a whole shelf of these, because I had three sisters and mom thought one of us should go into the medical field – I actually have a sister who also is a nurse."
Connolly said her mother was a big influence on her decision to go into nursing and higher education. "My mom was a wonderful mom and nurse – she was a nurse back in the 30s and was one of the first stewardesses back when you had to be an RN to do that," she said. "She flew for United and started the Clipped Wings group when United folded – she was a very notable kind of person who did a lot for the community, which at the time was Cleveland, Ohio. Mom was a big influence on us," Connolly said of her and her nine other siblings. "Mom’s goal was always to have 10 college diplomas on the wall – one for each of her kids – all 10 of us have college degrees.
"I also remember at the age of 7 getting a nursing cart for Christmas and that was so cool. It was this little cart with a fake stethoscope and little pill bottles, so we’d play nurse."
Starting out at Barat College in Lake Forest, Ill., Connolly started nursing school. "I then got married, had kids and followed my husband around for a while," she said. She later earned her BSN from Regis and her MA in education from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
A stay-at-home mom for about 10 years, Connolly worked in the corporate world for a while before going into the medical field. "It’s nice to have a background in the business world because it can help you relate to your patients if they’ve worked in business."
How she got into hospice nursing, however, is an interesting story. "I got into hospice nursing as a hospice volunteer," she said. "My daughter wanted to be a hospice volunteer, but was too young. They said if I did the training my daughter could do it as well – even though she was just 16 at the time. I’ve been in it ever since."
Although her daughter did well as a hospice volunteer, she ultimately decided it was not her career of choice, but Connolly had found something she really enjoyed. "I started out in hospice at Hospice of Metro Denver for a year and then started with Porter Hospice before it became Centura – I’ve been with them since 1995."
Although she really enjoys her work, it can be quite challenging at times. "Being in the home hospice program can be tough because you have no one to ask questions about things like new equipment," she said. "You can’t act like you don’t know what you’re doing, so you have to act proficient even if you’re trying to figure out how to use a piece of equipment."
Aside from the technical challenges that come up from time to time, she also deals with many emotional challenges, as well. Connolly said she once had to care for a mother and daughter who lived together and were both diagnosed with the same type of cancer around the same time. "It was a challenge because one always wanted to know how the other was doing – usually you don’t have that situation because you only have one patient. They both died peacefully at home within a month of each other."
When asked how she deals with the difficult emotional aspects of her career, she said she cries a lot with her patients. "I spent the first six months crying, but ultimately it’s a job. I think having your own losses and life experiences really helps you be there for the people.
"I try to remind myself that it’s not about me. The families usually put the hospice nurse way up on a pedestal, but you have to remember that you’re coming into their lives at a really hard time, and they’re going to share with you the most intimate moments of their lives and look to you for all these answers – it can be really overwhelming. I always try to take a step back and say this is not about me, it’s about them – I always say ‘I’m a guest in your home, and this is your journey – my job is to just give you some options, and it’s always your decision.’ I try to repeat that a lot. I also try to affirm the families and tell them they are doing a great job."
Connolly said she also looks to the support of her coworkers to help provide the best care possible for her patients. "I’m just one of the team – we all work together," she said, referring to the social workers, chaplains, CNAs and volunteers who make up the hospice program. "It’s not just nursing, that’s for sure – we all work together. My teammates are just exceptional – I’m really lucky to work with them.
"My job is to make sure everything is managed from the nursing standpoint – once they’re comfortable and their pain is manageable and maybe they can eat again, then they can begin to deal with end-of-life issues. Just like any of us, if we’re hurting, we don’t want to think about big issues, we just want the pain to go away."
The ultimate goal for Connolly is to make people comfortable and allow them to die peacefully. "It’s rewarding when people die peacefully and you know you’ve helped them through that," she said. "We’re also lucky to be part of such a big system that allows us to have a lot of resources available to us to help the patients.
"I love the autonomy of being a home nurse," she said. Connolly also is active in her parish on a variety of levels, including working as a parish nurse. She also enjoys tennis, bridge, hiking, volunteering with Denver Kids and spending time with family.
by Jason P. Smith