Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is it Time for Hospice?

I was on the phone last night with a physician colleague. George (not his real name) had, as his first symptom, excruciating pain in the mid back and left shoulder. The pain was so severe that he ranked it a 10 out of 10. It didn't take long to diagnose the problem - pancreatic cancer which had invaded the diaphragm and spread to the lungs. This was only three weeks ago. Just prior to that he'd been well, hiking and river rafting - two of his favorite things to do in retirement. After seeing Oncology, chemotherapy was initiated mostly to try to control the pain.

Without George being able to attend, a small group of us gathered last night to give both phone and written messages to him. It was sad yet uplifting. All were worried though that George's pain wasn't really well controlled. When I got on the phone with him, his voice sounded strong, "the problem is that I didn't tolerate chemo, the pain is still there and I'm not sleeping well. I'm not afraid of death, but I just don't want to be there when it happens (saying that this was one of his favorite quotes from Woody Allen)."

I said, "George have you thought about hospice? I know this has been so quick but they can make your days so much more comfortable."

George was ahead of me, "I'm calling them tomorrow. Also, I've checked out the Washington State End of Life Coalition. They have excellent resources for someone like me including information about palliative care, hospice and the POLST form. I'll need to work with my doctor on that."

What else was left for me to say? I told him that we were all thinking of him and of the great times we had traveling together. Basically it ended with, "God bless, we're keeping you in our prayers." I don't know what really helps, but it helped me and my wife to at least try to reach out.

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