Regina's Reflections

Embracing Hospice... Finding Joy

We currently find ourselves as a company in an unusual and challenging place.

Many of our current clients are now under hospice care. All differ in their stage of illness, family structure, age (in our company’s case, the range is 42 to 103 years).

Connecticut is hardly a leader in hospice care. Health care providers have made negligible progress with moving clients to hospice earlier in their illness. Our state has one of the shortest lengths of stay for patients on hospice in the country, hardly a development of which we are proud. And a disservice to their patients.

My friend and colleague Theresa Bachhuber, Director of Seasons Hospice in Middlebury and Bloomfield CT has an interesting perspective on this phenomenon. She believes, as do I, that most people faced with a serious disease, from which they are not likely to recover, automatically hurl themselves into treatment options, courses of care, choices of providers, etc. Many engage aggressively in this process, giving little thought to their prognosis. The treating physician may not be receptive to even discussing hospice.

Theresa is convinced there is a serious mis-perception among the public regarding hospice. This limits its use and, prevents clarity and deprives many individuals and families of valuable productive time during their last several months of life. Hospice is widely (and incorrectly) believed to be the Last Stop. The place to spend time when all treatments have failed and you need assistance with managing pain, nutrition challenges and coping with other physical limitations toward the end of life. But truly, hospice is so much more.

The full, most profound role of hospice is to:

Seasons Hospice, for example has distinguished itself by providing many “extras” and options to enhance life as disease progresses, to help families and friends seek and find joy in each day, to spend time with their most important people. On the patient’s terms. Seasons offers massage, music therapy, and more, in addition to volunteers who are talented, and flexible to participate in any activity the patient enjoys.

Some patients develop a “Wish List” of pursuits (within reason) in which they have always wanted to participate.

These are examples of some patient requests we have seen and honored for our clients over the years during their final months of life:

A ride in a large sail boat; a flight in a small plane; a foliage tour in the fall; spending time near an ocean, lake or mountain; attending an important family event. A particularly popular request, enjoying musical/vocal performances or sporting events as a spectator (especially when grandchildren are participating).

Sometimes the simplest activities are the most appreciated. Beauty treatments as facials, manicures, hairstyling are popular (our caregivers are most talented in this area). Hand, foot, leg and massages are both relaxing and therapeutic. Although not truly “professional” level of services these add- ons are unique and blissfully welcomed by patients.

Finally, there are bonuses for the friends, families, and caregivers when these joyful activities become an essential element of care.

Extraordinary memories are created. What better way to spend time with a loved one, especially when the final stage of life is so worthy and yet so finite? ■