Terminally ill patients enrich life of nurse at VNA Health
“Isn’t it depressing?”
Kym Renga is used to the question being asked when people find out that she is a hospice nurse who cares for the terminally ill.
“To which I answer, ‘No, not at all. It’s another phase of life, and I get to know wonderful people who have led interesting lives, especially if they are older. I help guide them at this vulnerable time,” said Mrs. Renga, a registered nurse on the staff at VNA Health (formerly Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care) since 2012.
“I have had my own personal experiences that have helped me understand what people are going through. I feel like a member of the club. I remember always what it was like to have my own mom die of ALS and how that hospice nurse treated my family with such tenderness,” she told the News-Press.
At the time, Mrs. Renga never thought she would have a career as a hospice nurse. In fact, she didn’t plan on being a nurse at all, even though her mother had been a nurse practitioner, and her grandmother was a nurse, too.
“At the age of 38, I decided to get my nursing degree at Santa Barbara City College,” said Mrs. Renga, who was born in Bristol, Penn., and moved to Rancho Palos Verdes with her family when she was about 6 years old.
After graduating from Rolling Hills High School in 1978, she followed her sister to Santa Barbara, intending to enroll at Santa Barbara City College.
“Instead, I worked at a variety of jobs and married Armand Renga in 1985. Although there was no pressure from my mother to follow in her footsteps, she often said, ‘You’ll never go wrong with nursing. You will always have a job,’ ” said Mrs. Renga.
After earning her degree in 2007, she worked at Sansum Clinic for five years before taking the position at VNA Health.
“My first task was to learn what hospice was all about. I saw thousands of patients and learned to deal with them and their loved ones,” said Mrs. Renga, who is on call evenings and weekends.
“Over the years, I have come to love hospice nursing mainly because of all the heartfelt experiences in which I have become involved. Though there are too many to mention, some I remember vividly.
“Like the 40-something cancer patient whose friends had promised her that when she passed away, the party would begin, and she had insisted on being dressed up in a fine gown with a zipper on the side. Well, the gown was beautiful, but the zipper just would not budge, so we all got on the bed and pinned the zipper the best we could.
“It was like a wrestling match, and all the girlfriends were laughing and crying bittersweet tears. By the time we were done with this sweet young patient, she looked so lovely, fresh flowers draped her, and her family was happy. I felt it was all part of being a hospice nurse, helping people deal with unusual situations.”
Another time Mrs. Renga was called to a home at Hollister Ranch, where she found an older woman who had just died was in a bed in the garden.
“It was a beautiful retreat with drummers, natural foliage and nature intertwined with chanting and peace offerings for the patient and her family. If ever there was a hippy gathering, this was it.”
Mrs. Renga was particularly impressed with the philosophy at Sarah House in Santa Barbara, which provides end-of-life care for people of low income.
“The atmosphere is very homey. I was there after someone passed, and the staff did what they always did — put the tea kettle on. They embraced the silence after the moment. They helped the family not feel rushed to make any sudden arrangements after a death.”
Although she was called at 1 a.m., Mrs. Renga sat silently with an elderly woman who had just lost her spouse and did not want the mortuary to come and get him “just yet. We did not say much, but I held her hand, and we spent that time quietly together.
“My work is extremely rewarding. It’s not so much about dying. It’s more about giving them a good life while they are here.”