Updated: Mar 6, 2019
“There is no later. Live now with gratitude for each precious day.” – Tanimoto Dharma Designs
I have this quote near my husband’s picture because that is how he chose to live the last months of his life. Hawai’i Care Choices helped my husband do this through their Palliative Care Program, Kupu Care.
My husband, Barry Mizuno, had always been involved with community service. It began with service to his church, soon followed by volunteer work for the business community and the hospital board. When he was asked to be a chair for Hospice of Hilo’s capital campaign to raise funds for the Pōhai Mālama Care Center, I never thought he would use the facility so soon.
In Spring 2015, while on a trip to view cherry blossoms in Japan, he began suffering from heartburn. After we got home, he didn’t seem his normal self, but he continued with his usual activities. He was now on the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents and several other community committees. After trips to the emergency room, he was diagnosed with a blockage in his digestive system. Surgery was successful, and he went through a round of chemo. In Spring 2016, we enjoyed a trip to New Zealand. When we returned, a test revealed that the disease had spread and was inoperable. This was devastating news. Barry had kept in touch with Brenda Ho and the Hospice of Hilo Board, so he made an appointment. We were told about Kupu Care, a program under palliative care, and assigned a nurse, a spiritual counselor and a social worker. All three made appointments, and we met at our home. We already had strong spiritual support through our church, and I am a retired teacher, so we did not need a counselor or social worker. We were glad they were available if we needed them. The nurse assigned to us was a godsend. She made herself available to us at all hours of the day and night.
In the beginning, we did not have to use many services, but the team continued to contact us to let us know they were available. As the months went by, we found Nurse Julia to be indispensable because she worked alongside Barry's primary care physician to administer pain medication after the cancer spread to his bone. She would make after-hours calls to his doctor to order the necessary medicine. At times, she would even advise the doctor because she was well versed in this area of pain management.
When the end came, I did not recognize the signs because Barry didn’t appear to be dying. Sure, he had to use a walker and I had to help him move longer distances with a wheelchair, but he was in good spirits. We made a trip to Japan with one set of grandchildren in June. In July, we attended his 50th class reunion on Kauaʻi, and in August he accompanied me to Las Vegas for my 50th reunion, followed by a trip to Seattle. In October, we took another set of grandchildren to Disneyland and Legoland. We even flew to Oʻahu for a friend’s wedding in early November.
The week of Thanksgiving Barry seemed weaker. He had developed a sore on his leg, but he continued to talk to me and seemed in his usual spirits. I took him to the doctor for a shot to help with the pain in his bones. Julia met us at the doctor's office. She noticed that he did not look right. She took his blood pressure and noted that it was unreasonably low. At this point, she decided to admit him to the hospice program. Julia returned to her office for the necessary papers, had Barry sign them, and said she would meet us at our home. She came to our house with an oxygen tank and showed me how to use it. My family spent Thanksgiving with Barry and me. Nurse Julia came the next morning and took over caring for Barry. The ambulance arrived at 2 p.m., and transported Barry to the hospice inpatient care center. That night I slept on the chair in his room. In the middle of the night, I remember waking up and walking over to Barry’s bed. I noticed his eyes were open so I said, “Do you know who I am?” He said, “Yes, you are my wife.” Those were his last words to me.
Barry passed away on November 26, 2016, just 24 hours after being admitted to the Pōhai Mālama Care Center. Barry did not want to spend the last weeks of his life in a hospital bed. I believe Hawai'i Care Choices, through their Kupu Care Program, helped ease his pain and made it possible for him to travel until the last month of his life. They helped us focus on living and enjoying life till its end.