Today I was fortunate enough to experience a rotation in a hospice center. I say fortunate because this is not an experience many get to have and I learned quite a bit from my time there today.
I, like many others, thought of hospice care as managing elderly individuals who are unresponsive, don’t know what’s going on, and are on their way out. I never really considered the use of hospice services in the patients I saw today. One patient in particular had a heart wrenching story. She is a 43 year old woman with terminal gastric cancer. She is a single parent to a 13 year old son whose father died in a car accident a few years ago. She was diagnosed with cancer in April after having symptoms since October of last year. to make the situation even worse is that both of her parents have colon cancer, although not a far long as she is. Additionally her mother has a cardiomyopathy and er father has lung cancer as well. Her sister has quit her job as a nurse to take care of everyone.
The doctor I was shadowing today really put it into perspective for me. When I began medical school last year, this woman was having symptoms bad enough that she was admitted into the hospital. She was diagnosed with cancer as i was nearing my summer break.
I cannot help but think about all the times I complained, got frustrated and upset with where I was during those times and see just how insignificant my problems are when compared to hers. Everyone around me is healthy, including myself. I don’t have to worry about my child being left without a parent. I don’t have a terminal illness looming over my head.
Hospice care is so much more than making patients comfortable as they die. It’s helping them sort out all the complexities of their life as the come to terms with the end. It’s helping them find peace of mind in knowing that their affairs are in order. It’s truly working with a team of people to make all this happen.
I never really considered hospice care before. I thought it would be too taxing and emotional. I found today that it is definitely emotional but not in the “boo hoo, I don’t want you to die” sort of way. It’s more than that. It’s helping individuals and their families with the end of a life.