Author: Kimberley Norris

For over 30 years Rick and I lived in New Jersey… a happy, fortunate life, but not without our share of challenges and hard work. In May of 2016, following our daughter’s wedding in North Carolina, we set out for a weekend retreat in Palmetto Bluff, located in Bluffton, South Carolina. Palmetto Bluff is a destination in South Carolina’s exquisite low country by the May River—home to waterfowl and alligators… abundant wild game… bald eagles and bluebirds… graceful live oaks hundreds of years old… the May River and its magical dolphins… and laid-back, comforting, Southern charm. Quite a change from our decades long work life in the New York metropolitan area! 
On one glorious, cloudless low-country day, we leisurely drove through the town, and it took just a few minutes for the spell to be cast: We fell in love with South Carolina. By Labor Day weekend 2016, we’d signed a two-year lease on a house in a neighborhood within walking distance of the May River and we moved away from our New Jersey life with a sense of adventure.

We loved the Bluffton area, with Savannah’s charm just a short drive away. We agreed it was time to begin looking for a small retirement home… blissfully ignorant of what was to come.

A year later, November of 2017. I was having my annual physical, and Rick sat in the waiting room, bored. He happened to pick up a pamphlet that said if you’re of a certain age, were ever a smoker and have a history of melanoma, you should have a CT scan. So, pamphlet in hand, Rick walked into our doctor’s office and set it up. The CT scan showed something in the esophagus. Then a PET scan led to an esophagus biopsy.  His diagnosis was stage IIIA distal esophageal adenocarcinoma. Esophagus cancer.  No symptoms. No warning. This was just before Christmas of 2017. 

When the ordeal of Rick’s critical illness burst into our life in 2018, I knew zero about what to expect or how to protect and advocate for my husband. We had no idea how to navigate a hospital ICU or step-down units, rehabilitation, home care, critical ER visits or hospice. No notion of how important nurses were and how to work with the swirl of hospital caregivers. No true understanding of ICU delirium and how troubling it would be to witness. 
Throughout this year-long, sometimes brutal experience, I stumbled around and learned a great deal I’m eager to share. My hope is that you’ll find the lessons I learned, and the insights offered by medical professionals, to be helpful should you face similar struggles one day.  
Now in 2022, I am grateful to call Palmetto Bluff my home. Simply put, my work exists so that you, and all of us collectively, can become well-informed assets working in partnership with medical teams for the sake of the people we love. There is more to come in founding the Bedside Advocate Project, LLC.