Their story is our story.

The Cowboy in the Garden

Susan Long joined St. Charles Bend fresh out of nursing school and spent her entire 38-year nursing career working on the hospital’s medical unit. But her connection to St. Charles goes even deeper. She was born at St. Charles, bore her children here, watched her father die here and expects that some day her life might end here.

“For me, the hospital is a family thing,” she said. “And I’ve always treated my patients as I would want to be treated.”

So it’s safe to say that Long has experienced A LOT during her time at St. Charles.

But one patient, she remembers, stands out the most.

The man was an eastern Oregon cattle rancher with terminal cancer. Before modern hospice and palliative care, long-term cancer patients were cared for continuously at the hospital. Because the rancher was at the hospital for four months, Long and other members of his medical team got to know him and his family well.

“He didn’t like being confined to the hospital,” Long recalls. “But because I also raised livestock, we had a connection. We often discussed changing irrigation pipes, just to pass the time.”

As the end of his life drew near, the rancher pleaded with Long to be allowed to go home.

“I want to be with my horses,” Long remembers him saying. “I want to be outside.”

The owner of a local mortuary offered to fly the cattle rancher home in a private plane. But there were concerns that because of his high oxygen needs and a lung infection the rancher might die en route without his family.

So Long worked with the rancher’s family and a team of nurses around the clock to find a way for him to live out his final hours on one of the hospital’s scenic outdoor patios.

“This hadn’t been done before,” she recalls. “His wife and sons had to wear masks because we weren’t sure what kind of lung infection he had. Outside, they could take their masks off and smile and talk.”

Long also went floor to floor to ensure any patient with a view of the patio wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.

“It was so special for that family to be able to have that moment outside of the hospital, without masks, and to be able to die with dignity,” she said.

“We are all going to be faced with illness,” Long continued. “Faced with the words ‘there’s nothing more we can do.’ But to have people around you to support you in this transition, to have lives celebrated … that’s what I will always remember most about this place.”


Date: December 20, 2016