Joe Ferguson could be a little contrary at times.
“I’m a stubborn person,” he admitted. “When I make
up my mind, it usually doesn’t change.” But after saying “no”
to Hospice of Frederick County not once, not twice, but three times, Joe
had a change of heart.
It was early fall when loss of balance led Joe to seek medical help. Employed
as a painter with Frederick Memorial Health System, Joe was finding it
increasingly difficult to work.
“I knew I was in trouble when the doctor said, ‘I’m sorry
but you don’t have cancer,’” Joe recalled. The diagnosis
was Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease
(commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for which there
is no cure.
The news was difficult for Joe to hear. “Here I am, a man who’s
worked all his life and supported his family. To be told that you’re
shutting down and you have to have a group of people help you…well,
I just never thought it would happen to me.” Joe’s wife Michelle,
a medical technician in the Emergency Department of FMH, was already familiar
with Hospice of Frederick County. She suggested that Joe give Hospice
a chance, but he was adamantly opposed.
“My fear was that if Hospice came in, I was gone,” Joe recalled.
“I thought that with Hospice you didn’t get to see your doctors,
that I’d be confined to one person telling me how I was going to
end my life. I thought they gave you medicine to help you die.”
Hospice social workers, a patient advocate from the ALS Association, and
several others talked extensively with Joe and tried to clear up his many
misconceptions about Hospice. They spoke about palliative care, explained
how Hospice’s emphasis is on living not dying and explored the many
ways in which Hospice could help not only Joe but also his family. “I
had to learn some things,” Joe admitted. “But I finally decided to try Hospice—and I’ve been thankful
The entire family saw how the benefits of Hospice’s involvement extend
well beyond the patient. Both Joe and Michelle noticed improvements in
their youngest son’s attitude and behavior after spending time with
the Hospice social worker. The older son attended Camp Jamie to better
cope not only with his dad’s diagnosis but also the recent death
of his grandfather.
“It’s not easy for anybody—no matter what the disease—to
prepare for death,” Joe explained. “But even with my disease,
I’m blessed. Just making it from one day to the next is a blessing.
I know it’s going to get worse, but we’re going to make it
I’m glad Hospice is here. Even though I turned them down in the beginning,
they didn’t give up on me. It’s been one of those roller-coaster
rides. You don’t want to get on it, but you get on anyway—and
I’m glad I did.”