Suncoast Hospice Physician Mary Waechter, MD

Here is part two of our Q&A with Mary Waechter, MD, a Suncoast Hospice physician at our Care Center Mid-Pinellas. She discusses care options, decisions and goals of patients and families, the comfort of volunteer support and her fulfillment with the mission.

Q&A with Dr. Mary Waechter Part 2

1. What are some barriers to hospice care?

For so many people, hospice translates to euthanasia or it translates to instantly dying. I understand that because for so many of our patients, hospice is not called in until they are actively dying. I think it takes an ongoing effort with all of us working together to talk to people and say that it doesn’t have to be when patients are breathing their last breath.

I understand it’s hard to know when it’s time to call for hospice care or palliative care when someone has a potentially terminal illness. There’s no crystal ball. I tell patients and families the same thing I told my parents, who both had cancer and died 13 years apart. First was my dad and I said to go talk to his doctor and find out what his options are. If he wanted to try aggressive care, find out the potential risks, benefits and side effects. And I said one of his options was to decline whatever treatment they offered him. He had chemo, then had complications and then had a rough decline. We were talking to the Suncoast Hospice admissions team through Palms of Pasadena, but he never made it into care while we were in that process. Mom was cared for by the Suncoast Hospice Purple Team for about six months, and she relished her time with them. They were great with her.

It’s not our job to decide for the patients, it’s our job to honor and respect their wishes. It’s the hardest gift that we give our loved ones because we don’t want to let go. I didn’t want to let go of my parents. But we love and support them. We follow their lead.

2. How does your team meet the needs of patients and families?

One of the very first questions pretty much all of us ask patients is, “What is your number one goal?” At the Care Center it’s often pain and symptom management. That question is a good starting point and it opens up a lot of doors for discussion about what is going on with their disease process and families. And then we can move to their next issues of concern.

3. How do volunteers provide support?

I see the volunteers here with the patients at the Care Center and I visit our patients who have volunteers at their bedsides to bring a peaceful presence. It is a gift that cannot be described.

My mom was a volunteer for Suncoast Hospice. She would tell me stories of the people she met and what she could do for them. She would say that she had the chance to sit and be with somebody. She sat as a peaceful presence for patients who were in their final days or hours of life, people who would otherwise be alone.

4. What does your work mean to you?

It means I am able to help. It means I am able to make someone’s load a little lighter. If I do a good job then somebody is going to hopefully have an easier day, and that’s what I love about it. It’s rewarding to be able to contribute to the mission and the heart of Suncoast Hospice. I always look back at our roots of how and why we started. It was always about smoothing out those edges during our last path in this life.

5. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’m a plain Jane. I come from a large family, so family activities are always my favorite things. Other than that is my family with the four legs. My biggest thing on my bucket list was to get back home. I was 30 years being away from home and when I had the opportunity to come back I was incredibly blessed and fortunate. I love where I live and I love where I work.

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