When a loved one is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness our initial reaction is to hold them tight and make it all better. And that's actually not a bad idea. It is amazing how much healing power is contained in a simple hug.
But when we step back from that hug, the world comes at us with dizzying speed. Our minds and hearts are in shock; our emotions in turmoil. This is often true even for those who have had lengthy advance notice to prepare themselves for sad news. Clear thinking may be the last thing we feel capable of at a time like this, yet it is often exactly what we are expected to do.
Suddenly, there are decisions to be made, forms to be filled out, insurance companies to be dealt with, family to be consulted. Daunting at the best of times, these necessary issues become even more confusing and downright overwhelming when our own emotions are so fragile.
In the middle of all this, where do we find the strength and time for the most important thing of all-the patient who may be in desperate need of our comfort and support? Has that person thought about how they want to spend their final days, weeks and months? Have we remembered to ask them? Do we even feel comfortable discussing such things honestly and openly with them? Do we all know there are CHOICES and people to help with those discussions?
Years ago little choice existed. Patients were cared for at home until their medical needs grew too great, then hospitalization was the only option. It was often a frightening and lonely option. Thankfully, there is another choice today.
You've probably heard the word "hospice" in passing. Perhaps you are even one of the rare ones with real knowledge of all that word implies. Statistically, though, it is far more likely that a typical reader is a little fuzzy on the details.
Not something you want to hear about until absolutely necessary, right? Well, I can't blame you. It's just that life doesn't always give us advance notice of what we're going to need to know tomorrow. Especially not the really hard stuff.
Since knowledge is power-in this case the power to make the end of our life as good as it can possibly be - a clear understanding of our options makes a lot of sense. This column is designed to help you understand what hospice can do for you if you are facing a terminal diagnosis, or for you as a relative, caregiver or friend of someone in that situation.
In coming weeks, we'll talk about specifics of hospice support for both the patient and his or her family, as well as insurance coverage and the Medicare Hospice Benefit, counseling, advanced directives, healthcare proxies and end of life issues in general.
For more information contact High Peaks Hospice & Palliative Care at 891-0606 (Saranac Lake), 743-1672 (Queensbury), or 546-9850 (Port Henry) or online at www.highpeakshospice.com.