In the U.S., we typically spend more money on health care during the final year of someone's dying than we do on the whole rest of their years of living. We do this despite the fact that "modern medicine has yet to make even one person immortal." (from Dying Shouldn't Be So Brutal, NY Times, January 31, 2015, by Ira Byrock, author of The Best Care Possible: A Physician's Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life)

Sunset.  Wikimedia photoWe do our best to deny death. We place our terminally ill loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes. There, they are poked and prodded, undergoing endless tests and treatments, often to little or no avail.

Yet many sick people would prefer a better death. During such a stressful time, they may want the comfort and familiarity of home, in the company of people they know and love. But they will still need expert care. That's where hospice comes in.

Hospice works to improve the patient's quality of life. They are not trying to cure the person. They are addressing symptoms like pain. Hospice workers are specially trained. Their goals are to help the patient be as independent and comfortable as possible. They coordinate services. They deal with crises. And throughout, they make decisions based on what the patient and the family wants.

Yet Dr. Byrock, a palliative care physician, laments that "less than 45 percent of dying Americans receive hospice care at home, and nearly half of those are referred to hospice within just two weeks of death. Hospice was designed to provide end-of-life care, but this is brink-of-death care."

I don't have much experience with the terminally ill. Almost all of my loved ones died suddenly. On the other hand, my second husband, Patrick, lost his wife to cancer. A local hospice organization provided them both with invaluable support. These dedicated and sensitive caregivers made it possible for his wife to leave her life at home, with Patrick by her side. Patrick was extremely grateful for the assistance they provided. But he realized that "the hardest part of hospice is admitting that you need it."

For whatever reason - fear, denial, resistance, ignorance - many families do not take advantage of hospice. It is not a panacea, but it can make a real difference if we take advantage of it.


The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent.
~ Tim Reider



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