Saturday, May 05, 2012

Get Your Business Done

I graduated from my first round of training with Hospice last week, and I've learned a lot. From here, I will be a "direct care volunteer" for 6 months, and then can go on to have specialized training to be a vigil volunteer. Vigil volunteers wait with patients at their last moments, or hours, especially if they have no one to be with them at that time.
Our training covered a lot about the philosophy and history of the Hospice movement. Each patient who enters hospice is given access to services of a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a bereavement counselor, a chaplain, and a volunteer. The team works together to offer a comprehensive treatment for each patient and their family, communicating between each member and serving the patient in a really wholistic way. On top of that, Hospice has a true respect for the dying process that I think most medical systems don't. They acknowledge that death happens, and is part of life. They say things like "our bodies know how to die" and "the patient is doing the hard work of dying." They don't see death as a failure of treatment or a tragic ending to be avoided. Just part of the deal, and something important and defining in a person's life and in the family's life.
What's also impressive to me is that unlike most social service systems, they don't have to deny the existence of spirituality. They take all comers, religion-wise, as they should, and work with people to understand the... (not their word) mystical part of the process of dying. It's really impressive.
All through the training, I kept thinking "people need to know more about this." Everyone I know considers Hospice to be a very-last-minute effort to keep pain away when there's no more hope. But I want everyone to know that Hospice is more like a team of tour guides who will help you get ready- they'll help you think about what you want and let your family know, they'll help you "get your business done" with your family and friends, help you get your house in order and figure out who'll take your cats when you're gone, help you come to a comfortable place with what you are going through. Medicare will fund Hospice, as I understand it, to those who have 6 months or less to live (with a chance to re-register if you live beyond your prognosis). Private insurance companies, I'm told, sometimes cover a year! Imagine having a kind and attentive team to help you and your family prepare for your fate, for a whole year. Honestly, I'd like that now, even though I'm not dying, that I know of.
So if/when someday you find yourself (or someone you love) facing the inevitable hard work of dying, think about Hospice for yourself and for your family. Don't wait.

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