When patients or family hear the word ‘hospice’, it triggers a cascade of defense mechanisms. What they know is that Hospice provides symptom management for the last 6 months of life. What they may not know is that Hospice is a wholistic service with your loved one at the center. As a health care provider, I realize there is a taboo surrounding the word hospice. I want to clarify what hospice is, and why it should be presented to everyone with a terminal diagnosis as an option.
Hospice, by definition according to merriam-webster is “a program designed to provide palliative care and emotional support to the terminally ill in a home or homelike setting so that quality of life is maintained and family members may be active participants in care; also : a facility that provides such a program”
Yet, without knowing the definition of Palliative Care, this may be confusing. Palliation is the relief of symptoms. With terminal illnesses, people often have many uncomfortable symptoms. These symptoms are what lead people to seek medical treatment. They can be pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or even a lack of appetite. In hospice, the primary goal is to make the person comfortable, always. This is done by alleviating of the symptoms through medicines (even unconventional medicines) and alternate therapies. Hospice also addresses the emotional aspect of it. Whether that be through a chaplain, a counselor or an empathetic nurse. Many times, the hospice provider will follow up with your family for years to come.
What is most important is that the person receiving hospice care is in control of their care. Meaning, if the person wants to eat salty french fries even though they have high blood pressure, that is ok! If they are weak but want to get up, let them! If they want to live on a diet of sweets, even though they have diabetes, that is ok too! Or, if they want to continue living on a diabetic diet, that is fine too. The emphasis is on quality of their days left. Quantity, is something that is never guaranteed. No healthcare provider can predict how many days a person has left. But a person, with the support of a hospice team, can determine the quality of life on a day to day basis.
Hospice is not taboo, it is a gift.
It hurts finding out that you or your loved one have limited time left on this earth. It is a bitter pill to swallow. The next step is to find out how you can maximize the time that is left. Time is unpredictable, but you can make the most of it with Hospice. Hospice is not taboo, it is a gift. Everyone with a terminal illness should consider it as a treatment option. It is not giving up, it is maximizing the time left.