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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hospice is not a Death Sentence

I'm taking a little departure from the promised subject matter...  In the last few weeks I've encountered too many family and friends for whom this is relevant.  (Although care for elderly parents or relatives DOES usually fall to "girls", to pretend that this post relates to business tips is a stretch. Whatever - it's my blog!)

As many of you know, I have served on the board of the local non-profit Angela Hospice for the past 5 years.  During that time, I've learned enough to be dangerous, and certainly enough to know that there is a great need for education about what hospice is...and what it isn't.

Most people are terrified of the word "hospice".  To many it means "the end" and "giving up" - this couldn't be farther from the truth.  Entering hospice care does not change your diagnosis or shorten your life expectancy in any way.  It's true that you must have a terminal diagnosis to qualify for hospice care, but experience shows that those who go into hospice care actually live longer than those with similar diagnoses who don't - and there's no question that the quality of life is better.

When a "terminal" diagnosis is given, it often means that the condition is no longer treatable - or it is treatable but not "curable".  Doctors necessarily prescribe treatments that will prolong life: they have taken an oath to extend life by any means necessary.  "Any means necessary" is just not always pleasant or even effective for the patient.  When patients decide to refuse treatment or try alternative therapies, families and friends get nervous.  Many people believe that refusing treatment means giving up. On the contrary - it simply means that the patient is taking control of the situation and is deciding to live out the time s/he has left on her/his own terms. That's exactly the opportunity that hospice provides.

Hospice is for those who necessarily have a terminal illness, but either have a condition that is not treatable, or they have decided that they do not want to endure further treatement.  They want to live the remainder of their life as pain-free as possible, at the highest quality possible.  They are deciding to proactively manage the last phase of their lives.  Hospice makes no attempt to prolong life or hasten death:  it simply enables patients to live as comfortably as possible, surrounded by the ones they love.

Once a person starts working with the hospice team, they frequently relax and set about putting their lives in order - physically, emotionally and often spiritually.  There is a peace associated with this that may very well contribute to a longer life.

A hospice team can include a physician, social worker, nurse and nurse practicioner, therapists and spiritual care providers as well as volunteers.  The hospice team can provide extensive resources for the family in addition to caring for the patient.  Bereavement counseling for the entire family is also available (Angela Hospice goes above and beyond in offering a variety of counseling services, memorials and workshops, provided at no charge to anyone in the community even if you have never used their hospice services).

The #1 comment of family members who have experienced hospice is, "I wish we had done this sooner".  There is no obligation or commitment implied by meeting with someone to ask questions and learn more about hospice care.  In the unfortunate event that you have a loved one who receives a terminal diagnosis, I can't urge you strongly enough to contact a local hospice and find out about all of the resources they offer - sooner rather than later.

Finally:  click on this link and buy this book today:  Being Mortal: - Medicine and What Matters in The End, by Atul Gawande.  This is an interesting look into the mindset of physicians and why so many are uncomfortable with the end-of-life decisions that their patients must make.  It's also a wake-up call for any of us who mistakenly assume that the way we would choose to treat a terminal illness or live out the rest of our days is what others would choose.

A terminal illness is usually accompanied by a free-for-all of emotions and unresolved issues all around.  Hospice teams are prepared for this, experienced in working families through it and can provide a world of comfort and clarity. 

Commercial over!  Next month, back to snarky business tips.

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