“People I know who have gone on hospice only lived 2 weeks”. This was what my step-mother said when we discussed hospice as a care option after the cancer in her lungs had increased in size during her chemo treatment. At this point she was extremely compromised and we were pretty sure that she would not survive another round of stronger chemo that had been suggested by her doctor.
Having been a hospice educator I knew that this was the right option for Helen and my sister and dad agreed. After having some very difficult conversations both alone with my dad and with the rest of us, Helen agreed that hospice care was the best option. At that point I think I really believed that she could regain some of her strength and possibly do some of the traveling that she had talked about. Unfortunately she was more compromised than any of us knew and after close to a month on hospice care she passed away at home on April 20th.
Sadly most people who have the blessing of hospice care at the end of life don’t really get the full benefit of the team approach to end of life care. Many times because the doctors want to try everything they can to “cure” or “slow down” the progression of a disease, however; the harsh reality is that many doctors (not all, but many) treat the disease instead of the person as a whole. In my step-mothers case that was what the doctor was doing.
Now there is nothing wrong with being aggressive in medical treatments, however; there comes a point where the potential outcome of the treatment and the quality of life before, during and after the treatment just don’t add up. This is when I encourage families to turn to hospice.
Hospice care is about the whole person. It’s not about giving up, it’s about giving the person a chance to live into whatever time they have left with dignity, pain management and quality-of-life.
Hospice offers a holistic approach to care. While the hospice team includes a physician, nurses and CNA’s to oversee the medical care, they also offer social workers to help manage the personal end of the dying process whether it’s assisting with contacting estranged family members, helping them create a video legacy or just having someone who they can talk to about the dying process (a topic that can be difficult for families to discuss). Each team has a chaplain assign to address the spiritual side of the journey, not just for the patient but for the family as well. Having team members who are not just about the physical care but about the holistic care of both the patient and their family can make one of the most difficult experiences a little easier.
Unlike other services, the care doesn’t end when the patient dies. The team members reach out to the family and throughout the first year after the loss to offer bereavement counseling.
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