November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and we at Gilchrist—along with hospice and palliative care programs across the country—want to help people understand all that hospice and palliative care offer.
When a cure is no longer possible, hospice provides medical care and emotional, social and spiritual support to help people live life to the fullest despite a life-limiting illness. Palliative care offers the same model of care to people earlier in the course of a serious illness and helps them decide on their care preferences. So many people are confused about what hospice is and isn’t. It’s time to reframe the conversation and correct the misconceptions.
Hospice Does Not Mean ‘Giving Up’
Many people have a misconception that hospice means “giving up.” This notion is reinforced in media stories whenever a prominent figure dies after an illness. This past year, former first lady Barbara Bush, Senator John McCain and Aretha Franklin were all at various points described as having “given up” or “discontinuing medical treatment” shortly before their deaths.
However, it is important to understand that hospice does not mean giving up medical care. People on hospice continue to receive medical care overseen by a physician—the difference is that the focus of the care shifts to the treatment of pain and symptoms, rather than a cure. In addition, hospice patients can receive care from a team that includes a nurse, social worker, chaplain, music therapist and volunteers.
Hospice is Not Just for the Last Days of Life
Nor is hospice reserved for only the last few days of life. In fact, the earlier people enter hospice, the longer they can take advantage of the support system that hospice offers. They and their families receive the best possible care and the patient may even live longer than if they had waited until the final few days before death.
In recent years, Gilchrist has extended its services to help more people with serious illness even before they need hospice. A year ago, we rebranded our organization, in part, to better communicate that through palliative, elder medical care and hospice, we can start sooner to help people live a fuller life.
Living Life with Intention
Gilchrist is committed to helping people make informed choices for better care and to live their lives with intention. Conversations about end of life should happen as early as possible. Most of us live our lives with intention right up until the moment we become ill. Then the conversation shifts to how to treat and cure a disease, without a discussion about care preferences.
What does it mean to live life with intention? Our patients show us every day. Jason, a 4-year-old patient who spent many days at our hospice center, loved to sing Bruno Mars songs, so that’s what he did. He loved fire trucks, so Gilchrist arranged for firemen to visit him at the hospice center in a shiny red fire truck, and he showed them all of his favorite toys in the playroom. The center was his fun, happy place, so it’s fitting that this was also the place that he died.
Another of our patients, Martha, had one last wish—to go skydiving. So she did…at age 79! Still another patient—an 11-year-old boy named Khalil —dreamed of joining the army, so we arranged for him to be sworn in as an honorary soldier in a military ceremony.
Not everyone has such grand dreams. Some patients simply want to live their last months in comfort with loved ones near. Regardless, the way that you live and the way that you die will create lasting memories for your loved ones and become part of the legacy you leave behind. Helping people live life with intention is what Gilchrist is all about.
As we celebrate National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, I hope you will take this opportunity to have a conversation with your loved ones about your care choices and preferences in the event that you become seriously ill. It may just be one of the most important conversations you will ever have.