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‘They provide the strength when you don’t have it’

November is annually recognized as Hospice Month, and retired Afton Police Chief John Coulter believes that designation is one highly deserved.

Robert "Bob" Coulter (right) sits at the Lake Icaria campsite with son John (middle) and son-in-law Dean Fox (left) in summer 2009.
Robert "Bob" Coulter (right) sits at the Lake Icaria campsite with son John (middle) and son-in-law Dean Fox (left) in summer 2009.

Last year, 1.5 million Americans were checked into hospice care. One of those patients was Robert “Bob” Coulter, John’s father who passed away after a battle with cancer last year.

Hospice care is specialized type and philosophy of care that provides assistance to patients who have been medically certified to have less than six months to live. The palliative care provided focuses on providing relief to symptoms including any pain or physical or mental strain at any stage of illness, focusing on the patient’s quality of life.

Battling leukemia, Bob and his family made the decision to receive hospice care.

“He would tell me that he knew the end was coming now,” said John.

Bob Coulter was born in 1922 and raised during the Great Depression on a farm outside of Corning. Bob graduated from Corning High School at age 15 and worked locally until joining the United States Army Air Force as a bomber during World War II in the fall of 1942. After being honorably discharged, Bob worked as postmaster over Corning and later Creston. Bob also lent his time volunteering as assistant fire chief and emergency medical services for Corning, something his son Jon would later credit for his own career in emergency service.

“I made my first ambulance run at 13,” said John. “Dad called and said someone had gotten drunk and fallen on the ice and went and picked me up. We had to use a hearse because the ambulance was already out. You should have seen their face. They were pushing my dad away and saying ‘I’m not dead yet, I’m not dead yet!’”

Bob retired in 1980 and moved to Missouri with his wife Joanne. Ten years later, the Coulters moved to the Rio Grande Valley, where they would stay for decades, enjoying the warm environment and spending his days camping — his favorite past time.

“He loved to go camping everywhere. We camped all over the United States,” said John.

Bob had battled skin, colon and prostate cancers over the course of twenty years, but in 2018 Bob was diagnosed with leukemia. As his health worsened, Bob and Joanne moved back to Iowa, and Bob began receiving in-home hospice care through EveryStep Home Care.

“He loved those people. They were so good to them and he knew it,” said John.

Bob would later receive hospice care at the EveryStep Hospice House facility.

“They’d work with him and get him comfortable,” said John. “It was almost like it was one-on-one, even if they had five patients in at once. They’d show such care and concern like each patient was the only patient that mattered to them. And I don’t know how they do that. I couldn’t do hospice work.”

A large part of hospice care isn’t related to medicine, but to planning and processing the end of life. Nurses provide mental and emotional support, and spiritual support to those who practice. John says this helped comfort Bob and eased him throughout the process.

“It took him a while to face that reality of death,” said John. “But those nurses, bless their souls. They were so caring and so giving. They would spend two hours just visiting my dad. They even got him to open up on things he never talked about.”

John notes that the care and relief hospice provided was not just for his father, but for the family as well.

“The social worker still calls and checks on my wife and I. I’ll get calls randomly from the staff to see how I’m doing. It touches,” said John. “They provide the strength when you don’t have it.”

Bob’s battle with leukemia went in waves, with periods of worsening and rebounding. Bob had left and re-entered hospice four times, with the fourth time being the final time.

“The first three times the staff would tell us we probably want to call family in, that the time is here,” said Coulter. “Then the next morning dad would be up in bed laughing and telling jokes. Honestly two of the three times I thought it was the end. He was semi-comatose and didn’t recognize family. Then he would bounce back and say, ‘it’s not my time yet’.”

John recalls his father wasn’t one who often discussed the topic of his own death, but in the last year of his life Bob would tell his son about what he would miss.

“I’m gonna miss coffee with you and my three Oreo cookies,” Bob had told John in 2018.

Due to the nature of hospice, the decision of accepting care for a loved one is a heavy choice. John offers a piece of advice to someone who faces this situation.

“Don’t be afraid to do it,” said John. “Hospice is going to help you more than hurt you. The care is going to be far better than you can take care of somebody on your own, and it’s the most personal care. They have the training to deal with the last stage of life and to help with you as a survivor,” said John.

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