My sweet friend called to let me know she had begun hospice care. She sounded relieved, happy, almost excited.
I was baffled and confused.
To me that word meant end of life. Period. And a near immediate one at that. Period. How could she be so positive about this? I thought of hospice as a kind of throwing one’s hands up in the air, oh well, now we’re done fighting kind of attitude. That’s not typical of my friend. After all, less than a month ago she was a patient aggressively fighting a fiercely unrelenting disease.
I’ve had it all wrong for a long time now. I’m glad I looked into it more.
So what is it? Here’s a definition I found from a place called Hope Hospice.
“Hospice is not a place. It is a special kind of healthcare focused on keeping the patient comfortable once the patient and physician have decided that the underlying disease can no longer be treated or cured. Hospice helps the patient, their families, and other caregivers and hospice care can occur in a variety of settings. It neither hastens nor postpones death and is focused on the belief that quality of life is as important as length of life. Hospice staff members help manage pain and symptoms and provide emotional and spiritual support so patients can make the most of each day.”
Here’s another new word: Palliation. It means easing the severity of a pain or a disease without removing the cause.
That word helps me understand Wickipedia’s explanation of hospice.
“Hospice care is a type and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs. The concept of hospice has been evolving since the 11th century. Then, and for centuries thereafter, hospices were places of hospitality for the sick, wounded, or dying, as well as those for travelers and pilgrims. The modern concept of hospice includes palliative care for the incurably ill given in such institutions as hospitals or nursing homes, but also care provided to those who would rather spend their last months and days of life in their own homes.”
No more visits to a clinic or hospital sounds wonderful to someone who has spent the past five years staying in or visiting both on a daily, biweekly or weekly basis. To be cared for in one’s own home by nurses and healthcare providers relieves anxiety and frustration and improves communication. Increasing pain gets addressed quickly, logistics and questions receive almost immediate action, concern for all involved increases.
To work with professionals trained specifically for treating those with less than six months life expectancy changes the focus to comfort and communication and caring.
She isn’t dying so much as she is living. Now that she’s isn’t battling the effects of the chemotherapy and other treatments along with the myeloma, she has an opportunity to spend better quality time with her family, make a few more wonderful memories, cherish every minute.
She’d love to take her kids to a hockey game, go to a symphony with her husband, see a few plays, spend time with extended family, eat well, laugh as much as possible, and live as long as she can. Anything anyone can do to help make any of that happen is welcome to extend a helping hand.
My hand will be held out to her as long as she needs it. And then some. I’m glad so many other hands have now joined in her care.