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A Life of Quality: Elizabeth Johnston

LENOIR, NC (November 17, 2017)…Driven by a mission to provide compassionate, respectful, quality end-of-life care regardless of ability to pay, Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care is committed to enhancing quality of life for their patients. Based on testimonials and words of gratitude from the more than 11,000 patients and families they have served since their beginning over 35 years ago, Caldwell Hospice is consistently fulfilling this mission.

Although the Caldwell Hospice team works closely to develop and implement a plan of care for each patient to meet their individual needs and enhance their quality of life, very often the quality of life for the Caldwell Hospice team members is enhanced as well. A prime example is the relationship built between Caldwell Hospice patient Elizabeth Nash Johnston and her care team…

Elizabeth Johnston

“Work hard and put your faith in God. He takes care of you.” That is the advice soon-to-be 101-year-old Elizabeth Nash Johnston of Hudson has for today’s young folks. “If I didn’t have faith in God,” she continues, “I don’t know where I’d be. I have really been blessed. I had a happy life growing up. I think that has a lot to do with your outlook on life. Hard work never hurt anybody.”

With a strong faith and a robust sense of humor, Mrs. Johnston aims to make every day of her life count. Other than some heart issues, she says “I started getting a little arthritis in my hands a couple of years ago.” Despite her physical ailments, though, it is keeping her mind sharp that occupies her thoughts, and she acknowledges that may be her secret to longevity.

Elizabeth Johnston

“I don’t want my mind to be idle,” she said. “I do things to keep my mind active. I memorized the names of my high school graduating class … and things like that.”

Currently under the care of Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care, Mrs. Johnston enjoys the regular home visits from her nurse, certified nursing assistant, medical social worker and chaplain. Together, they are all focused on making sure she is comfortable and enjoying every day, one day at a time. “I don’t know what I’d do without Caldwell Hospice. They’re so good,” she said. “I just love every one of them. I feel secure when they come in. I just welcome them.”

The Caldwell Hospice team shares those same sentiments about Mrs. Johnston and says that working with her enriches their days, too.

“We don’t always get the chance to get involved where we can get to know the person and their life, their history, so it has been a blessing to be involved with Elizabeth so long and get to know her,” said Karen Prather, RN, adding that the time together has also allowed Caldwell Hospice to enhance Mrs. Johnston’s quality of life through interventions such as symptom management and providing emotional and spiritual support to her. Prather calls her patient a friend and “a great historian.”

L to R: CHPC Chaplain John Robbins, Elizabeth Johnston, Karen Prather, RN, and Kelly Mitchell, BSW

Mrs. Johnston has lived through quite a lot of history in her 10 decades plus. Woodrow Wilson was President, World War I was in full swing, and women could not vote when she was born. “It was hard times during the Depression, but we never went hungry,” she recalls. “We used molasses made from sugarcane a lot. We also grew a lot of peanuts and popcorn …. I don’t eat a lot of popcorn now, but I like the peanuts.”

Her family included her parents and four sisters, three of which are still living at 87, 96 and 100. The family was, for the most part, self-sufficient, growing or making everything they needed from clothes to lye soap to wash those clothes.

“We bathed in a washtub we would sit outside in the sun to heat the water,” she recalls. “We all used the same water. I was the oldest child, so I was the last one to use it!” She graduated from Wingate High School in Union County in 1935 and recalls proudly that her class was the first to wear cap and gowns. After graduating high school, she went to work in a hosiery mill, where she met a friend who introduced her to her brother, Lewis Baity Johnston.

“I didn’t date much…wasn’t boy crazy…but I thought he was a nice man. We met two years before we married. I remember very well when he asked me to marry him. The song ‘My Happiness’ was playing during the intermission at a drive-in movie,” she recalls.

Mrs. Johnston has been a widow for 52 years, but says she never considered remarrying after her husband died. “I loved the one I had,” she said, “couldn’t love anyone else that way.”

While she was raised in a more primitive time, Mrs. Johnston has embraced the newfangled inventions of the last century. “I’ve seen quite a few things that I think are amazing. On a riverboat trip in Wisconsin there were beautiful rock formations along the side. The Bahamas was also a very pretty place,” she says. “My first time on an airplane, there was a mechanical problem after takeoff. I didn’t have sense to be scared. We were flying to get on a boat for a cruise.”    It is through the sharing, the simple act of telling and hearing these stories of hope and hardship that the Hospice team has built a friendship and rapport with Mrs. Johnston, a relationship that inspires those who care for her.

“She does welcome us in her home like family, and we sit and talk with her about another time, another generation,” says Kelly Mitchell, CSW, social worker. “We and Elizabeth enjoy that so much … She has a beautiful outlook on life, and our visits give her quality, and those are her words. She says, ‘I look forward to your visits, the girls and John.’”

John is Hospice Chaplain John Robbins, and he, too, is a fan of Mrs. Johnston. “She always tells me she was blessed to have wonderful parents that taught us about God and how to live.”

While she was raised with all girls, Mrs. Johnston went on to have three sons, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. And, though, she is up in years, it does not mean she is necessarily old, at least not in attitude. She has a pillow a niece gave her at her 100th birthday party that pretty much sums up her outlook. It reads, “I’m not 100. I’m 18 with 82 years’ experience.” And in November, will be 83 years’ experience.