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Caldara: Gratitude for hospice heroes

In a country where occupational mobility is still celebrated, we have great control in choosing the industries in which we work.

I understand why some people want to become astronauts, architects, musicians.

It’s fortunate that people go into accounting and computer coding. I’d go mad in such fields.

I’m humbled that people choose to work in the armed forces and as first responders. These folks witness the best and ugliest of humanity.

Then there are those who go into the medical fields. They are made of stronger stuff than I.

I think of the men and women who work at places like the Children’s Hospital have a special kind of strength. It’s been almost 20 years since I lost my daughter, Parker, and I am still in awe of the professionals who cared for her, knowing full well she couldn’t be saved.

But at a magical place like Children’s many lives do go in the right direction. More lives are saved and nurtured back to health than are lost. I can only assume that, for those who work there, that makes up for some of the devastating part of witnessing children suffering.

I once asked a friend of mine, who was an ICU nurse, why in the world he did the job, working around such distress, heartache and mortality. He then told me of a patient who was torn apart from a motorcycle accident. He said this guy was basically held together by two huge steel rods anchored into a hospital bed drilled completely through his pelvis. It was touch and go but after six long months his patient left the ICU on his way to recovery.

Cases like that are the compensation — taking what is death and turning it back to life. That’s the satisfaction that comes with the job.

But what about when death itself is the job? How is that emotional compensation?

My father, Charlie Caldara, passed away Tuesday morning in Denver Hospice where he spent the last two and a half weeks of his life.

What I witnessed there was, and I say this with the full meaning of the word, beautiful.

For us, his family, the immediate concern was his comfort and dignity as he went through the long process of dying.

Denver Hospice is a nonprofit facility made possible by gifts from community foundations with names like Daniels, Anschutz and Gates as well as equally generous small donors.

Like so many places you don’t really know exist until you need them, we’re grateful for the people who came before us had the vision and drive to turn this idea into reality.

But buildings are just buildings and beds are just beds.

The spirit and soul of any endeavor is created by the people who see the vision and work in concert to turn it into reality. And I have witnessed few finer than the caring staff and intrepid volunteers at Denver Hospice.

In his final weeks my father was perhaps the most content I have ever witnessed, and we Caldaras are not known for being a content bunch.

My father was able to drink in the love of his wife, kids and grandkids. He was joyful, despite the pain hospice labored to manage.

I asked one of the nurses why she does this job, the job of only certain death. She said she went to nursing school for the sole purpose of working in hospice. It baffled and amazed me.

She went on to say that in hospice the patient is a person, not a diagnosis. She got the “honor” (a very important word) to connect with and work for that person and his family. She was free to apply her craft, not be a cog in an increasingly heartless bureaucratic blob.

We all know what it is like to feel like a number. In health care it’s easy to become the “lung cancer in room 243” or the “55-year-old with high blood pressure.”

My father left this world being Charlie Caldara, not a number. He was his own man, dying on his own terms with a support team whose only goal was to ease his transition and honor his wishes.

My father is a hero to me. He died among the heroes of this hospice.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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