Still, to this day, I remember exactly where I was standing when a compassionate nurse at the University of Michigan hospital led me to a private office and explained that I needed to telephone hospice. I asked, "What do I say?"
With a kind, maternal tone, she said, "They are expecting your phone call."
I didn't think to even get the name of the nurse, or ask whom I should thank for arranging this. I just stood there, lump in my throat, trying to hold back tears while looking outside and noticing a perfect autumn day. I just stood by the desk and the nurse pulled out the chair. She said, "You will need to sit down here."
Many have lost loved ones in the hospital and others, like my late husband, had in-home hospice care. Rather often, when I talk about my upcoming book, I am asked whether I would again engage hospice. This answer is yes. Hospice is a difficult decision for anyone, but it allowed me to bring my late husband home, somewhere he desperately wanted to be.
Nurses and doctors help people understand the nature of hospice. Dr. Gary Hammer, the Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer at the University of Michigan Cancer Center, helped me. His patients have an ultra-rare type of cancer: adrenal. Sadly, nearly all of the patients Dr. Hammer treats have advanced cancer. My husband was treated at this cancer center, and six years after his death, I met with Dr. Hammer. I told him that I felt guilty for having my husband undergo numerous biopsies, other procedures and doctor visits, and spending so much of his remaining time in the hospital, when the best solution was hospice. With great patience and kindness, Dr. Hammer explained that many times adrenal cancer is diagnosed only after it has metastasized and said, "You did the best you could do."
Many others wait unduly long as well, I'm told by J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which represents some 50,000 providers and professionals. Schumacher has spear-headed National Hospice Day: Oct. 12, 2013. This day is about expanding awareness, Don tells me, as "one-third of all patients enter hospice and die within seven days. We hope more people will see the value and select hospice sooner."
Dr. Hammer speaks to such value in his opening letter to patients:
In this vulnerable place of finding themselves dying, brave people have let me into their space where three truths seem to be unveiled again and again as defining gifts of sacredness. And these truths are indeed the very reflections of the word presence: conscious engagement, the experience of present time -- the razor sharp NOW, and a gift -- the gift of emotional authenticity.
Source: Hospice Voices. Retrieved October 21, 2013 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristin-meekhof/hospice-care_b_4072417.html
-Stephan Rechschaffen, M.D.