Monday, November 8, 2010

Hospice Care Provides Calm Sense of Dignity

The following message comes to us from Susan Levine, Executive Director of Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ:
"Whispering down the lane" is what Norm called it.

Rather than pursue aggressive treatment for incurable cancer, he called Hospice of the Valley to see him through life's final passage. An erudite man, Norm wanted time to prepare himself and his family for the transition, time to read books like "History of Western Civilization" and time to sit outside on his patio and listen to the birds sing.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, he'd get home visits from a doctor, nurse, nurse's aide, social worker and a chaplain - all members of his hospice team. What he told one would be relayed to the next team member, who would relay it to the next, and so on.

Norm got a kick out of knowing that all these people were talking about him in absentia, following up on what he'd told the previous visitor. Sometimes, the topic was the fall of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, it was constipation.

That's what hospice is about: a caring team of professionals that walks by the side of patients and families during life's final chapter. Conversations about the meaning of life are every bit as important as conversations about pain medication.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. It's a time to take stock of our own lives, to think about how we're making every day count. Are we devoting our energies to worthwhile endeavors? Are we tending to our relationships? Are we enjoying ourselves?

Hospice and palliative care allow people to continue living their lives to the fullest until the very last moment. When patients are first admitted, we ask: Is there anything you would like to do? Any people you would like to see?

One patient wanted to resume his career as an Elvis impersonator and sing to people at senior centers and nursing homes; one time he serenaded a fellow hospice patient all the way to Graceland. Another patient wanted to fly an airplane again, and we made the arrangements. A husband and wife wanted a romantic dinner at home to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary; the nurse and social worker catered a candlelight meal. A state prisoner wanted to say goodbye to his estranged mother - she came to his bedside, and they made their peace.

We tell our patients: Hospice care is about quality of life.

Carpe diem.

Susan Levine is executive director of Hospice of the Valley, a not-for-profit hospice serving the community since 1977. For more information, go to

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