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.


  1. Some of my most fulfilling moments come when we have successfully controlled someone's pain.

    I do wish that people would consider hospice well before the very end. We have so many resources to offer and people on service actually live a bit longer than those not. But we still have the reputation of swooping in at the hour of death.

  2. Many people still have the misconception a Hospice is a "House of Death" Mostly due to a lack of information. A few years ago they were planning on opening a Hospice in a very old quiet residential area of my city. The home was perfect. Lovely views, spacious rooms, a peaceful place. You would have thought Dr Kervorkian had planned on moving in. Petitions were distributed signed and the area deemed inappropriate for a Hospice. Eventually they did build in a more commercial area on one of the busier streets that would blend in better. Since there was a funeral home in the proximity. This was in Canada (Ontario)

    I am a Breast Cancer patient, I was diagnosed with stage3 grade3 in 2009. Currently in remission. If and when the time comes that I need further care to control pain at the end of my life most definitely Hospice will be my first option. I have lost friends in recent years, the care they received was beyond compare. The patients needs are always first priority. Allowing a patient to do it "Their Way" allows them the dignity of a "good death" What could be better? I do believe there needs to be more information detailing the idea of Hospice Care in the public sector . Misinformation can make the difference in the way a person chooses the end of life. Also to alleviate the myth that there is Dr Death or Nurse Black waiting with a syringe filled with a lethal concoction. Alli...

  3. If that time comes, Alli, we will be honored to walk with you on your journey. May you not need us. :)