Care Givers provide home hospice care

Ulla Sangild said her life is ruled by her heart and her heart tells her that she's supposed to be a caregiver.

"How do I describe it?" said Sangild. "This is my life, what I choose to do. I love it."

Sangild and her Care Givers have provided home health and hospice care in Douglas County since 1993.

"In hospice care, we deal with people who are dying - people who have six months or less to live," she said. "We call ourselves 'Care Givers.'"

Sangild said most of her cases are from Barton Hospice of the Valley and by word-of-mouth.

"A patients' family will call and is often ready to freak out," Sangild said. "They think they need 24-hour care for mom or dad. We discuss the patients' needs.

"Until they're better or 'til death do us part - nothing in-between."

The Care Givers provide medication, injections and care for bedsores, but they also are part of a family team to help patients with meal planning, shopping, housekeeping, laundry and transportation to appointments and day excursions.

Sangild describes the routine she's had for three years with a 95-year-old Alzheimer patient:

"I get her out of bed, bathe her, do dental care, make-up and hair - she has to look like a queen," she said. "She doesn't look like I'm her caregiver when we go out. And I can take her dancing if I want. We went to see 'The March of the Penguins' at the movies."

Alpha Arnett, 99, is wheelchair-bound after a leg infection "did me dirt" and is another one of the Care Givers' patients.

"Ulla is a great person," said Arnett. "It was to the advantage to the U.S. when she came from Denmark. She's always doing something for someone else. She's a great friend to us."

Sangild has 12 caregivers with eight actually working right now. She said they should be ready to work nights and weekends.

"This is not a j-o-b, this is a life," she said. "A caregiver sometimes spends more time with a patient than his own family.

"When the hospice needs someone, it's up to me to find the right caregiver for each case," she said. "I need someone to stand strong and not fall apart because it's the hardest thing for the family to say good-bye.

"I tell my caregivers to sit, shut up and let the family grieve. We stay until the body is taken out and we clean up afterward. I tell them to do what you'd do if it was your mother or dad."

Sangild said she encourages her workers to walk into work with a smile on their faces.

"I have the best caregivers," she said. "I have to give them honor - I'm nothing without them."

Sangild started working with Barton hospice when she was one of three people who took care of Sharkey Begovich for the month before he died in 2002.

"Until the end I was surprised about the amount of people who came by and I saw the influence he had," she said. "I found out he helped a lot of people - anyone he had given a meal and never charged never forgot."

Sangild, 61, is a native of Denmark who had her first glimpse of the United States when she saw television at age 17. She traveled to San Francisco two years later to work for a family as an au pair.

"My first day in the United States and I saw the Golden Gate bridge but I cried because I didn't see any cowboys and Indians," said Sangild.

She learned English from TV and went to Hollywood, became a model and worked in the wardrobe department at CBS.

Sangild stayed with an old woman when she came to Gardnerville in 1990.

"She got up and read the Bible every day," she said. "Her way of life attracted me and I became a Christian."

That was the beginning of Sangild's work as a caregiver.

"I was really meant to do this," she said. "I'm a firm believer that this is not the end."

There was a time when families all lived together in one house, from birth to death, and hospice care wasn't needed as it is now.

"That world doesn't exist anymore," Sangild said. "Very few families are willing to take care of people until the end. It's an instant world and it's easier to put them away."

In a perfect world, what would be the best way to take care of our loved ones?

"The mother-in-law house is ideal, that way they have privacy," she said. "In very old houses in Europe and the Middle East they just add on to the houses."

Sangild said when a patient becomes part of hospice at home he or she should still be part of the family.

"Don't put a hospital bed in a dark room, put it in the living room close to the kitchen so they can listen to the news on TV, see the family and be part of a regular routine," she said.

"They're aware they're sick and dying. Life is stopping - changing - and they don't want it to change."


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