November! Pumpkins, Pilgrims and the big build-up to Christmas keep us so busy, don’t they?
Last Thanksgiving, we had a delightful lunch with a couple of friends (all of us in our 70’s and 80’s) in the restaurant of their clubhouse.
Seven days later, after being dragged all over the state in air and wheeled ambulances, our friend from that lovely day was dead.
His wife (who had followed the odyssey in her car and staying in hotel rooms) was completely devastated and exhausted almost beyond endurance.
Wait! Don’t flake out on me yet. If you’re over 50 you know someone who’s dying even if they haven’t announced it yet. In the early stages, most of us think we’ll beat it and our spouses think that they can handle it all with a little help from their friends.
That’s the main reason that Hospice is often called in so late in the process. When the caregiver is totally frazzled is too late to get the best benefits from hospice care. The point is to not only spare Dad the humiliation of having the kids change his diaper while Mom rests, but to keep Mom from getting utterly exhausted by her caretaker role. Unless you’ve been through it before, you have no idea how emotionally and physically draining six months or more of caregiving can be.
Our Thanksgiving friend, who I’ll call ‘Bill,’ should long since have been on hospice care. His having been enrolled with a hospice organization would have prevented the traumatic end days of a good man’s life. He wasn’t with hospice because nobody: patient, primary physician, wife or family, wanted to talk about impending death.
If you’re not seeing improvement but decline in a health condition, don’t wait for your doctor to bring up hospice; you may have to take the initiative and ask your primary and other doctors about it. That means you’re going to have to talk about death and a lot of doctors don’t want to go there. They’re healers and admitting defeat isn’t in their DNA. Ask where you are in this journey and if you feel that you’re being pooh-poohed, call hospice and ask for their thoughts on the situation.
Hospice is for everyone. Not just those with cancer or other well-known afflictions; not just the rich or the poor. The first week of having hospice in your life will be a busy time of getting the team introduced and arranging schedules, but don’t fear that the activity level will remain high. Soon, a supportive calm will give your whole family some peace in which to make this journey. Early enrollment with a good hospice organization can help spare your family a lot of unnecessary end-of-life misery.
In the two days after our friend Bill was returned home to die, hospice had stepped in and helped immensely under stressful circumstances. Just think how they could have helped given six months or more!
November is National Hospice Month. Leslie has volunteered with hospice organizations intermittently for 25 years. This column isn’t meant as a comprehensive look at hospice; please call one of the local organizations for more information.