Hospice can make dying a normal part of the human experience
It’s no surprise that people in the U.S. are conflicted about death. This conflict is not about the violent or untimely death reported in the news. It is around the basic, normal, everyday end-of-life death that is in most of our futures. And it is very personal.
Amy Love, RN, deals calmly and openly with death every day. Amy is a case-coordinator for MVNA which operates the Hospice of the Twin Cities.
“It’s not about death, but making the time you have left as comfortable and worthwhile as possible,” she said. “But it can be a very stressful time. Some patients and family members don’t know how to react to the decision so we do a lot of counseling and education about what to expect. Often the family members who are the most upset haven’t experienced the death of someone close to them. It is easier as you age.” She added, “Sometimes people sign up for hospice and the family doesn’t know about it. They become alarmed. “
Hospice is considered when a physician has determined that a patient’s condition is not curable and they have a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice care will focus on the patient’s comfort and can include anything from pet and music therapies to advice on how to resolve family conflicts. It is almost always paid for in-full by insurance and can be done in the patient’s home or in other safe non-threatening environments, for example, in a nursing home if the patient has been a long-term resident.
It starts with a counseling session with the Hospice Coordinator. “There are a lot of misconceptions. We talk about a lot of choices they can make. Each person is different,” says Love. “It’s also not the best decision for everyone.”
One woman who was undecided on Hospice, said she was worried she would be required to die in six months. “A six months to live declaration by the doctor is not a death sentence,” said Love, “but it is better to get signed up before you get too close to death so you can still be an active partner in your care.”
Hospice of the Twin Cities has a Legacy Project, where patients can make videos and write messages about their lives. Hospice staff can also help people mend relationships before they die, help them make calls and find long-lost family members.
Hospice staff also can work with family members to explain what they are trying to do for the patient and help them deal with their own stress around the death. Hospice nurses will work with a team of caregivers, if that’s what the patient requires, including the family physician, pain specialists and relaxation therapists. Care is gentle and as non-invasive as possible. “No IVs if we can help it,” says Love, “and no worries about addiction.”