Debbie Hill, LPN, tells people “I have a two-fold life. Half of my life is nursing, half is music.”
Hill is a composer, a pianist, a choir director and a nurse. She is retiring after 15 years of providing end-of-life care for countless Hospice of Cincinnati patients, and before that, 25 years caring for patients at the former Bethesda Oak Hospital and at Good Samaritan Hospital. Over the years, she’s brought both the gifts of caring and of music to people throughout Cincinnati and beyond.
When she moved from a hospital-based setting to Hospice of Cincinnati, Hill says she was surprised at how fulfilling end-of-life care could be. “I feel like hospice is the best-kept secret,” she says. “I had no idea care like this existed.”
“I like the gentle, palliative care, rather than the rush-rush-rush of the hospital.” Hill explains. “I can take time with the patient. I can put all of myself into that one person.”
Little did Hill know that she would have the opportunity to combine both her gifts – music and nursing – to provide a meaningful end-of-life experience for a patient and his wife. In 2016, Hill arrived at a patient’s home to relieve another nurse. A baby grand piano was sitting there, with some covers on it.
“The nurse before me told them I could play piano,” Hill recounts. “They had been listening to classical music most of the evening, so I played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for them. I looked over at them. The wife had gotten into bed with her husband. It was so soothing, and very intimate. I’ll never forget the experience. There were tears streaming down their faces. They were all so grateful.”
Hill first developed an affinity for health care when she volunteered as a candy striper at Good Samaritan Hospital in the 1970s. “I enjoyed the people contact,” she says. “I told my mom I wanted to be a nurse. I worked for six years as an STNA (State-Tested Nursing Assistant) before going to school to become an LPN.” She graduated with her LPN degree in December 1980, and began her nursing career in January 1981.
Her passion for music started even earlier. She began piano lessons at the age of 9. In her free time, she works with the Children’s Choir at the Zion Temple 1st Pentecostal Church, and composes by setting the bible to music. Her compositions have been performed internationally, including at the Gospel Music Workshop of America, where she directed the Children’s Choir as they performed her piece, “I Know You Care.” (see video link at end of article)
Hill says that, while caring for hospice patients may be a gentle process, meeting the needs of someone at the end of life is a weighty responsibility. “Your decisions are crucial in affecting the patient. I want to be sure to take the best care of the patient, and my conscience is clear.”
When a patient dies, Hill’s role includes comforting the family by taking charge of what needs to be done for the patient. “I’ll tell the family, ‘Go call the relatives, I’ll do the rest.’ They’re in mourning; they don’t know what to do.”
Hill is still sorting through what the next part of her life will look like. Music and caring for people will always be part of her life, she says. Her vision includes developing a citywide children’s choir. And hospice patients, staff and family will continue to be graced with her talents, as she plans to volunteer to play piano at the Margret J. Thomas Inpatient Center in Blue Ash.
“All that I do for work or for church, I owe it to God, because he’s given me the ability to do these things,” Hill says.
Click on this link to watch Debbie direct the Gospel Music Workshop of America’s Children’s Choir performing her composition, “I Know You Care.” https://youtu.be/pn7n81HbpNo