Kaiser Permanente Patient’s Daughter Galvanized to Become Hospice Nurse

South San Francisco, CA  July 12, 2023 Submitted by Karl Sonkin, Kaiser Permanente

A palliative care doctor at the Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center brought comfort and inspiration to a dying woman’s daughter.

The word hospice was hard to comprehend for Sonia Chandra when this service was first offered to her mother, who was at the end of her life after battling cancer.
Chandra said in her Hindu culture people believe that it’s up to God when a person will die. So, she didn’t want her family to think that by approving hospice she was speeding up her mother’s death in any way.
“It’s hard saying goodbye,” Chandra said. “But when your loved one is in constant pain, it’s not fair to them. Nobody deserves pain.”

The hardest decision

Chandra is a registered nurse. She stopped working for 2 years to take care of her mother, who was hospitalized multiple times because of her complications from radiation and chemotherapy. During one of the hospitalizations, Chandra met Aruna Chinnakotla, MD, a palliative care doctor at the Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center.
“Dr. Chinnakotla talked to me as a family member,” Chandra said. “She made me feel that I was related to her in a way. She explained to me the importance of quality of life and that my mom was not experiencing it.”
At her mother’s last hospital admission in July 2022, Chandra made the decision with her family that it would be best for her mother to accept comfort care at the hospital. Chandra said Dr. Chinnakotla’s approach and care was crucial in educating her and her parents on palliative care.

“It was the hardest decision in my life,” Chandra said. “But Dr. Chinnakotla gave me comfort and reassured me that we were doing the right thing.”

Dr. Chinnakotla visited Chandra and her mother at the hospital daily to check up on them and gave her condolences when Chandra’s mother passed away after 7 days on comfort care.

A touching phone call

After going through the experience with her mom, Chandra said she was motivated to specialize in hospice care because of Dr. Chinnakotla’s caring approach. Nine months after her mother passed away, she called Dr. Chinnakotla to tell her about how she changed her life.
“She told me, ‘You touched my life. You’re the reason I’m in training to become a hospice nurse,’” Dr. Chinnakotla said. “That was so humbling for me to hear.”

Dr. Chinnakotla said that when she talks to her patients and their families, she approaches them as if they are her family members.

“I talk to them about who they are and what their legacy is,” Dr. Chinnakotla said. “I try to be there for them as much as I can.”
Chandra said she is still in training while working for a home health agency. Because of the peaceful way her mom passed and the care that Dr. Chinnakotla showed the family, Chandra said she feels she was able to gain closure she wouldn’t have otherwise.

“I feel like my mom is at peace and not suffering anymore.”

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