Michael Stiggers talks on the misconceptions of hospice care

Published 10:17 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

WEST POINT — Rev. Michael Stiggers told members of the West Point Rotary Club on Thursday that there’s a common misconception about people who work for hospice organizations. 

“People are always telling me that I must have a difficult job to do and that they wouldn’t trade places with me,” said Stiggers, who is the chaplain for Chattahoochee Hospice. “They think it must be the worst job in the world, but they are wrong. It’s one of the best jobs you can have. I absolutely love my job.”

The hospice concept of health care attempts to make a patient’s remaining life as comfortable and meaningful as possible. It’s a special kind of healthcare that focuses on keeping the patient comfortable once the patient and physician have decided that the underlying disease can no longer be treated or cured.

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Stiggers said that infants are showered with hope and encouragement when they come into the world. 

“Why can’t we give those who are nearing the end of life the same hope and encouragement?” he asks.

Stiggers said he has had some very fulfilling experiences interacting with families who have a loved one in hospice care. He experienced the positive role hospice plays in people’s lives when his mother, Catherine Stiggers, was nearing the end of her life at age 94. “She told me she didn’t want to go to a hospital and did not want to have to deal with being a hostage,” he said, smiling as he remembered his mom confusing the word hospice with something else. “The people from hospice were great to work with. I told them that we wanted to keep mom at home as long as we could. They worked with us so we could do that. It meant a lot to us that she could stay in surroundings she was familiar with and near those who loved her.”

Through hospice care, a loved one nearing the end of life can maintain a sense of independence.

Hospice is not a particular place or person but rather a philosophy of care provided by a team of professionals and lay people. Hospice care addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of each patient, family members and caregivers so that patients can make the most of their day.

Stiggers talked about some memorable experiences he has had in hospice. He once was making visits to a man with dementia who was getting about in his home with the aid of a walker. He kept a 38-caliber pistol on that walker in case he ever needed it to defend himself. Stiggers found it best to have a well-known family member with him when he would make a visit to the house.

There were times he’d make an hour-and-a-half drive from the hospice office in Valley to Daviston, Alabama in Tallapoosa County to pray with a hospice patient. It meant a lot to them and their family and Stiggers always had a rosey feeling inside when he left.

Stiggers sometimes gets unusual requests from his patients. A man who had been getting around in a motorized wheelchair told him that the motor had gone out on the wheelchair and could he fix it for him. “His sister came by and I told her he needed a new wheelchair,” Stiggers said. “She told me that he and another man in a wheelchair had challenged each other in a downhill race in their chairs. Her brother had lost the first race and wanted to beat him in a second race. Both of those men were amputees but were still having the joy of living.”

Stiggers got another unusual request from a woman of another hospice patient who was living in a rural area. “A big dog had gotten run over in the road in front of their house,” Stiggers said. “She told me it was starting to smell bad and if I could help her move it. She told me she had some rope and we could tie it to her F-150 pickup truck and haul it off.”

It was a chore to handle that big, smelly dog, but they did. “She drove it a good distance away from there and we turned down a logging road,” he explained. “The rope broke on that bumpy road and the dog fell off the truck. With that, we just turned around and went back to the main road.”

On the way out, Stiggers noticed a flock of buzzards in a nearby tree. “Well I guess we will be feeding them for a while,” he said.

Not long after that, the woman sold the truck. It had nothing to do with the dead dog adventure but Stiggers took no chances. “I bought it,” he said, laughing about that episode. “I have the evidence and took it to Georgia.”

Stiggers said that some people still kid him about inheriting a church. It seems that he and his father, the late O.C. Stiggers, pastored Eastside Baptist Church in LaGrange. “That’s not the way it works,” he said smiling and shaking his head. In more recent times, Michael has been at Mount Pisgah Baptist on the east side of LaFayette. Michael and wife Cheryl have three grown children. Michael Jr. is a graduate of Columbus State University, where he majored in theater. He and his wife Maggie live in New York City, where Michael Jr. has played the role of Simba in Broadway productions of The Lion King. He has also been in theater productions on cruise ships. Daughter Chelby is married to Rev. Rodney Rogers, who pastors a church in Atlanta. Another son, Braylon, is serving in the military.

 

ROTARY CLUB PROGRAM — On Thursday, Rev. Michael Staggers (at center) talked about the rewarding experiences he’s had in interacting with local families in his work with Chattahoochee Hospice. “Some people think that being with hospice is the worst job in the world,” Stiggers said. “They are wrong. It’s the best job you can have.” Stiggers was the guest speaker at the noon-hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club. At left is Dr. Joe Downs, the program chair, and at right, Club President Daniel Meadows.