In truth, this phase of my cancer requires more than a little courage. Up to this point, I have largely been free of pain. This is coming to an end. As pain becomes impossible to ignore, it brings wariness and fear. Managing these emotions requires a surprising amount of energy, just as my store of energy is evidently diminishing.
Nonetheless, as my attention is drawn to the distraction of discomfort the merciful Lord brings needed relief. Monica and I met, this week, with our hospital’s Hospice Care Team. This cancerblog is intended to convey how deeply impressed were Monica and I by the practical considerations that inform the hospice unit’s organizational priorities; as we were by the inclusive and holistic sensitivities of the team members who are now available to accompany us on our road towards death. I’ll give you some examples of what it will mean for us to enter into hospice care.
On the practical level our initial hospice “intake assessment meeting” took close to three hours. (!) It was designed to make sure that our (Monica’s and my) end-of-life goals were completely aligned with the hospice team’s. The team wanted to avoid the possibility that any of their forthcoming services hindered us in collectively achieving the death I hope to experience.
Henceforward, the Hospice Team will be our single point of contact with our medical caregivers. Planning ahead, we’ve been given a “comfort bag”. It contains narcotics and high strength medications we might never have to use, and certainly not now. But, since the hospice team is now in charge of my complete medical needs, and because unexpected emergencies require immediate response, the “comfort bag” of medications guarantees we won’t need to wait—in an emergency—for an urgent pharmacy order to be filled. Thanks to the comfort bag the hospice team will have, on hand, a supply of likely treatments for any kind of foreseen emergency. Until then, all we have to do is lock the comfort bag securely in a cabinet that children can’t accidentally access.
With regards to the holistic inclusiveness of the hospital’s approach, the attitude of the holistic team recognizes the reality that a diagnosis of terminal cancer affects the whole family, not merely the patient. Care and support is extended to Monica as fully as it is to me. She has full access to all hospice services. Her welfare is understood to be as critical as mine. In addition, we’ve been given advice to include, in various practical ways, our dog Gracie, in my decline. The understanding is that when I die, Gracie will inevitably experience a period of depression and animal grief. It will be easier for her to make sense of her loss if she has experienced my decline over time, rather than being confronted by sudden and unanticipated death. This conforms to our personal commitment to the dignity of all life.
Similarly, If Monica and I did not have a supportive relationship with our church and parish community to deal with our spiritual welfare, the hospice team would be prepared to supply spiritual/ psychological support. Given that we happen to be blessed with a very close prayer community of long standing, the hospice team is prepared to welcome them into our process as appropriate.
We were very much impressed and supported by this enlightened approach to end-of-life. It allows us to concentrate on preparedness for the natural experience of living, which, of course, includes dying. And preparing, as best we can, for the new life that awaits us. You can appreciate how welcome to us is this enlightened availability of hospice care. We can only hope it is widespread and available for all terminally ill families.
Thank you, as ever, for your welcome prayers and good wishes.