How a hospice worker helped this family through their tough time.
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When Christine Powers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, she took it in stride.

No one would have blamed her if she had complained, but that wasn't her way.

Christine in New York City. All photos via Gerry Powers, used with permission.


It was the same thing when Christine was diagnosed with malignant skin cancer in 2000.

Even when the cancer reappeared later, seven years after being cancer-free, she kept her composure. That time, the cancer had spread to her brain. After multiple operations and a multi-year battle, it was clear the cancer was terminal, so her family opted to get Christine hospice care.

For anyone not familiar with it, the term "hospice" can seem like it carries some mysterious and scary connotations, but it actually refers to a type of medical and emotional care for people in the last stages of a terminal illness. It helps them and their families manage the end of life with as much compassion as possible by focusing on the quality of life instead of continuing often painful treatments to prolong it.

Samantha Lee is one of the hospice aids who helped care for Christine in her last years. 

"Christine was the youngest patient I ever had," Samantha says. "I was in love with that family so much."

The Powers family.

Hospice nurses and aides try to ensure a patient isn't in pain and help them — as much as possible — live their final days with dignity.

When Samantha helped take care of Christine, she came to the house five days a week, four hours at a time. She would cook, wash clothes, run errands, talk with Christine, and then work with her to try to keep her energy and mood up. She helped her do some exercises, and she encouraged her to do one major project a day to keep her spirits up.

"Our home aides knew Christine really, really well," Gerry Powers, Christine's husband, fondly recalls.

Gerry and Christine Powers.

And they were with her until the end, making her as comfortable as possible and the family as cared for as possible.

"You can be intellectually prepared for a loss, if someone in your life is declining," Gerry says. "But I don't think you’re ever really emotionally prepared when it happens. That’s the thing."

Samantha says people's eyes get big when she tells them she's a hospice worker, caring for patients at the end of their lives.

"They'll say, 'Oh, you’re a hospice aide? Wow, must be hard. Why do you like that?'" she mimics over the phone.

But you can tell by her voice just how much she loves her job. She says she's grateful that she can be there to help the patients and their loved ones through this difficult time.

"[This job] changed me around," she says. "It made me more soft on the inside, more compassionate and humbled."

One thing Samantha has learned from her work is the importance of having conversations about death and dying early on.

It's not an easy thing to do, but talking openly about death can bring some comfort to the end of life.

Especially in Western countries, talking about death is kind of taboo and invokes anxiety and fear in many of us. But if a loved one dies without ever having shared their end-of-life wishes, it can add extra stress and confusion during crisis mode.

"You have one family member that feels that this is not the way to live, that [the loved one] should go," says Samantha. "Then you have the other family member that wants to hold on."

She says that if people start conversations about what they want when they get to the end, then it shouldn't be a problem when the time actually comes. Family members will know exactly what they need to do and be able to spend more time focusing on their loved one and taking care of themselves.

Gerry and Christine.

Samantha says that her work as a hospice worker has also given her a new perspective on life and death.

"I look at life much different," she says.

"It really doesn't make sense to be so angry and have a lot of hatred in your heart because nobody knows when their time is up."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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