Hospice organizations in St. Louis and the US are working to educate the public about hospice care—what it is and what it is not.
At the same time, hospice organizations are working to educate doctors on the benefits hospice care provides at the end of life. In St. Louis, we are blessed with some of the brightest and most caring doctors in the country. Still, there are doctors who are reluctant to share the bad news with a patient that death is close at hand.
Admittedly, this would be a difficult task for any of us to perform. It may be especially tough for doctors whose mission is to extend life. It may hard to admit that a particular patient faces a certain end.
But the comfort of the patient must be the top priority. If given the choice between dying in a hospital while hooked up to tubes and monitors OR dying in your own home, with attentive hospice professionals offering their various services, which would you choose?
Former college basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour recently died. About his passing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: “It was peaceful,” said his wife, Vicki, who was at his side with other members of his family. “It was better than being in the hospital.”
Dr. Susan Block of Boston, who works with doctors on dealing with end of life issues, was quoted in a 2010 article about hospice in The New Yorker magazine. Her message to physicians, who may have difficulties sharing a terminal diagnosis: “A family meeting is a procedure, and it requires no less skill than performing an operation.” She suggests that doctors ask their patients: “If time becomes short, what is most important to you?”
The New Yorker article also states: “Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding suffering, being with family, having the touch of others, being mentally aware, and not becoming a burden to others.”
Hospice care makes it more likely that patients can achieve many of those desires as death approaches.
We ask that doctors, and all health care professionals, make efforts to become more familiar with hospice care and all the good things it offers. Directing patients to hospice care can result in numerous benefits to the patient and the patient’s family.