Those who deeply embrace their work, or connect with it thanks to their own life experience, are fortunate to do what they truly love. For Corinne MacEgan, a hospice nurse educator with Sharp HospiceCare, work is a beautiful union of both.
Prior to choosing nursing, Corinne studied kinesiology. However, losing family members would ultimately open her eyes to where she would eventually land.
A personal connection to end-of-life care
"My grandma was my very best friend," MacEgan recalls. As time marched on, her grandmother's health declined and she entered hospice in 2007, for just five days. Corinne recalled a nurse that cared for her on the last day of her life. "We'd known this nurse for maybe 12 hours and the moment my grandmother passed, I saw that nurse crying in the corner — someone who had known us less than a day." It was at that moment that something clicked.
"I thought, 'This is what I need to do in my life' — deeply connect with patients and their families when they most need it." She eventually became a certified hospice palliative nurse (CHPN). She worked as a clinical nurse in oncology at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and, because of her CHPN certification, was often called on to visit patients and families to discuss end-of-life issues and care.
Eventually her path and life would intersect again.
MacEgan's younger sister, Becky, lived to travel, and had two cats — Sketchy McGee and Dirty Larry. "Her favorite thing to do was to dye Sketchy pink and make sure he had the most sparkly collar on earth," says Corinne. Becky was colorful herself, covered in tattoos and with a shock of red hair. While the two were very different and not especially close growing up, they put aside their differences later in life and enjoyed a newfound kinship that only sisters can understand.
"She had a heart of gold, and was fiercely loyal to friends and loved ones."
At age 34, Becky began two-and-a-half years of treatment for gastric cancer. She eventually came to Sharp's LakeView Hospice Home, for just 12 days, and died on the same day as her grandmother had in 2007. "I was with her 24/7," says Corinne.
In 2016, Corinne's own health complications revealed a deadly heart defect and, despite avoiding open-heart surgery through a lesser procedure, she faced a seven-month recovery period at home, relying on oxygen to breathe.
"They told me I should have been dead or had a stroke years ago," she says. She recalls the support she received from fellow nurses and how they helped to translate clinical jargon to her mom when she was sick. "They came together so much for me, and it just further supported that I'd chosen the right field."
Finding home at work
She landed at Sharp Grossmont Hospital later in 2016 as a nurse educator, before transferring to Sharp HospiceCare, where she felt most at home.
"My first day working for Sharp HospiceCare as a nurse educator was Sept. 10, 2018 — on the four-year anniversary of my sister's death and the 11-year anniversary of Grandma's."
Corinne is a passionate advocate for starting the conversation and action around receiving hospice care earlier. This provides both patient and family a longer time to come to terms with the situation and helps them receive more support, education and help from hospice caregivers.
"People often wait until the very end to choose hospice, but it's such an extraordinary level of care that can help families and patients cope with what's happening, earlier on." She uses her own family as an example.
"When my grandmother died, my dad was not ready — she'd only been on hospice for maybe five days. When we would visit my sister, who was there only 12 days, my mom and I would go to lunch when Becky was sleeping. To this day, my mom can't go to the restaurant where we would eat."
Working in Sharp HospiceCare homes is comfortable for Corinne, but it's common for people to ask her how she can work somewhere that is so sad. She sees it differently.
"Everyone has their niche and for me, I can't see myself working in intensive care, or in the ER," says Corinne, who views hospice as more peaceful, and a place where she sees those innate connections she saw when her grandmother and sister passed.
"People celebrate new life coming into the world," says Corinne. "Why shouldn't we embrace and celebrate a life when it ends?"