Nurse Paula McBrady reflects on caring for her most important patient her husband

Paula McBrady’s career was inspired by a nursing kit her parents gifted her when she was just six years old. Her five younger siblings would play her patients and she would move around the house with her nurse's cape on, caring for each of their ailments. As the oldest, being a caretaker felt natural to Paula, and the transition to taking care of patients as a nurse was an easy one.

When she entered St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing in Tacoma, Paula met fellow students, Gwen, Kathy and Betty, who would become her lifelong friends.

“We had the most fun and we learned a lot together. Nursing school was hard, we supported each other through those first confronting experiences of losing a patient and learning the very particular protocols for medical care,” Paula says.

A few years into her career, Paula’s life took an unexpected turn when she met Dick McBrady while dancing at the Golden Tide Restaurant in Ballard, which often hosted live bands. One of the first things Dick made clear to Paula was that he loved to dance. When Friday night came around, he was going out to dance.

“Dick would almost drag me out on Friday nights. But even on those days I was tired from a long week at the hospital, I was always glad I went because we had so much fun together,” Paula says.

They soon began a 44-year marriage filled with humor, dancing and support for each other. When they married, Paula also became a stepmom to Dick’s two young sons and the four of them spent lots of time together.

Paula spent the majority of her career working with oncology patients in the hospital and in the clinic. She also loved her time working in the nursery with newborns. Both experiences helped her become familiar with the specifics of end-of-life care.

“The education I received at St Joseph's School of Nursing, helped me view nursing not just as being a clinically proficient RN but as a vocation,” she says.

Her introduction to oncology began with Dr. Gale Katterhagen, who led St. Joe’s to prioritize home hospice care, instead of having patients die in the hospital. Dr. Katterhagen’s patient-centered approach to care influenced the care Paula provided to her patients throughout her career.

When Dick was diagnosed with dementia, Paula became his full-time caregiver. She also made a commitment to do for him what he always did for her – find humor and keep laughter in his life, no matter how hard of a day he was having.

“Dick was an inherent optimist. One of the things Dick often said was, ‘Something wonderful is going to happen to me today.’ He really brought a bright light to everything and everyone. I tried to keep that light present for him as much as I could,” she says.

As Dick’s condition worsened, Paula leaned on the Franciscan Hospice House for support. She knew Dick wanted to be at home and the Franciscan team honored that wish.

“Many people assumed that I could handle being a full-time caregiver because I was a nurse. But no one can prepare for how hard 24/7 caregiving is,” she says. “As the spouse, you can't clock out, you are it. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting and oftentimes the rest of the family will never understand unless they do a 24-hour shift.”

During Dick’s final three months, Paula was relieved to have the support of the Franciscan Hospice House nurses, bathers and social workers who would come throughout the week. She was also grateful for her fellow nursing friends, including Kathy, who supported her and encouraged her to take care of herself.

"I was grateful that the hospice team was part of CHI Franciscan and the hospital I trained at. They were also available by phone anytime I had a question. They would call me back right away with answers and support,” Paula says.

Paula was so grateful for the strength and kindness of the hospice team, she made a gift in Dick’s name after he passed away.

“I now have a completely different perspective on the importance of the caregiver. More and more people now are choosing to die at home and the caregiver is truly the unsung hero,” Paula says. “I relied on Franciscan Hospice to guide me through the last few months with my husband and I am grateful to everyone who was there for us. I hope my gift shows my gratitude and helps other families like mine.”

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