Early in my hospice career, I went on an admission visit with the hospice physician to the beside of a young woman with an aggressive cancer. The physician asked her, "What goals do you have for your treatment? What can we do for you?" She turned and looked up at us and told us her story.
"I have been from hospital to hospital, specialist to specialist, clinic to clinic, and for almost 6 years now, no one... no one... has been able to get me relief from this pain." In desperation she said to us, "Please, will you be the ones to finally help? And... would you pray with me>"
The physician's answer was a gentle one. "If you can give us a few days, I promise you that we can and will improve your pain and help you to be more comfortable." He smiled at her, and said, "Yes of course we will pray for you." She seemed surprised when he got down on one knee, and led the patient and the chaplain in prayer for her. Following the prayer , and in tears, she told us that this was the first moment in a very long time that she had felt any hope whatsoever.
It wasn't in two or three days, but within a few hours, that through the expertise of a hospice physician, and a caring hospice team, she reported relief from her intractable pain.
This i one of the great miracles of the promise of hospice care: that with the appropriate time, care, and skill, a patient's goals to be comfortable and not debilitated by pain are obtainable and very real. For the patient in pain, that can mean a restoration of life. Pain is a harsh master: it can immobilize you, rob you of sleep, override the ability to think clearly, and very simply limit the scope of your existence of the world of pain vs. the world without pain. Pain rules, and co-opts, any available energy a person may muster for the things that make us truly human: the ability to communicate clearly to love, to laugh, to have dreams and visions, and to be fully ourselves with families, in short, to live. The alleviation of pain restores these vital, life giving, human attributes.
As a person new to struggling with chronic pain, experiencing its real presence and its power, I re-affirm in a truly visceral way my belief that one of the greatest gifts hospice care can give a patient and family is indeed the alleviation of pain and the restoration of comfort at the end of life. It is truly, truly life giving.
By an ambassador for hospice care in our community: remember the story of this all too young woman patient, who found a new life at a critical time, due to the miracles and blessings of hospice care.