Comfort Care Fund helps ease patients’ last days
Most terminally ill people prefer to die at home or in hospice with their friends and family nearby. So did Bill Gaulman, a Martha’s Vineyard resident who was treated for advanced liver cancer at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center earlier this year. But Bill’s family was in the Bronx, New York.
“One of the major roadblocks became, how do we get him there?” said Beth Collins, MD, Lahey’s medical director of palliative care. Bill’s condition meant he needed an ambulance to get safely back to the Bronx, a very expensive 200-mile ride that insurance wouldn’t cover.
Bill’s son, LeShan Gaulman, had a plan. “I was going to take him in my little Subaru with the IV hanging up on the coat rack,” he said. “We were getting down to New York!”
Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. Dr. Collins obtained a grant from the Hospice Comfort Care Fund, which the hospital’s Women’s Leadership Council started in 2017 to help patients afford supplemental care outside of the hospital during their last days. When she delivered the good news last March, Bill teared up, grateful that his transport wouldn’t be a financial burden for his son and daughter.
“It means a lot for me personally,” LeShan said. “My sister, my father’s wife and all his friends, they got to come see him. It’s just a very touching thing that we could be here with him.”
“When people need you, you show up”
Bill, a Vietnam veteran and former New York firefighter, loved to sail so he and his wife, Sandra, retired to Martha’s Vineyard in 2017 to be near the ocean. When doctors diagnosed Bill with liver cancer in December 2018, he started treatment on the island. But they couldn’t manage his pain there, so he was flown to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.
Getting Bill to his regular treatments at Lahey was a huge undertaking. Once a week, LeShan would drive from the Bronx to Falmouth, where he’d meet Bill and Sandra at the ferry. Then they’d head to Burlington for Bill’s weekly appointment.
“That was something my dad taught me,” LeShan said. “When people need you, you show up. And that’s what I did, because that’s what he would do for me.”
But Bill’s pain was relentless and getting worse. In March, when his oncologist told him the disease was progressing and there likely wouldn’t be any more treatments for him, he decided he wanted to go home to New York.
In his own words
LeShan describes his father as a “hero.” Bill survived the Vietnam War, fought fires in the 1970s when the Bronx was burning and got his bachelor’s degree in biology while working full-time, all in an effort to provide for his family.
Bill’s experience in Vietnam clearly left a mark. He spent years writing a novel based on his time in the service. In March 2018, Pathways Gathering Space on Martha’s Vineyard invited Bill to read aloud from his book, Da Nang Postscripts.
While the book is written from the perspective of a fictitious Marine, the epilogue is Bill’s commentary on his own story, in his own words. “I honestly believe that all living souls will have to give an account of the things they have done in this life,” he read, his voice cracking with emotion. “My goal, therefore, is to be able to stand before my Creator one day and say, ‘Lord, I did the best I could.’”
Bill Gaulman passed away on March 22, 2019.