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Helping People Help Themselves
If you are a person who has proven to yourself time and time again that you are a survivor and remarkably adept at figuring things out yourself, would it be difficult to accept help when you really need it? How would this affect you and your family if you were facing an end-of-life challenge?
A writer and hospice volunteer by the name of Marietta Prichard dealt first hand with this issue and documented in her book, The Way to Go, Portrait of a Residential Hospice. Marietta wrote of a man by the name of Howard Sachs. Howard was an accomplished doctor, medical researcher, father, veteran, and writer. At eighty-five, Dr. Sachs was now a hospice patient. While he was all too aware of the shape he was in, it wasn’t just the physical discomfort that he struggled with but anger and frustration from a lifetime of feelings he tried to avoid addressing. Now, as he lay in bed, unable to escape and propel himself into another endeavor, Dr. Sachs was left with the hard reality that this was the end- a fate he refused to accept.
Marietta describes how Dr. Sachs family knew that hospice was the absolute best place for him, and not a hospital where “They’re pretending the person is going to get better, not attending to the needs of the family or the person.” Dr. Sachs’ daughter “was reassured to see that there were nurses who liked her father, who responded quickly to his needs, especially around pain control. “
It was difficult for Dr. Sachs to accept the care being offered at the hospice residence. Marietta points out how worried the family was that his angry behavior would alienate his caregivers, but they were relieved to see that the hospice team knew how to handle this individual’s emotional needs. The transformation with Dr. Sachs’ mood was evident; he went from insulting his care team to complimenting them. Dr. Sachs’ daughter was reassured to hear how many people liked and respected her father. Marietta says Dr. Sachs’ daughter said that hospice was “the last gift I gave him.”
The story of Howard Sachs reminds us of how good it feels to know that there is hope in helping people feel a sense of peace at the end. Helping people who don’t believe they need help is a challenge hospice professionals are faced with often.
Alyson Curry, a Senior Social Worker at Hospice of the North Country in Plattsburgh, New York, describes a patient* who had a difficult time accepting the support provided by hospice care. Alyson says, “We had patient with end –stage liver disease who lived alone. He was an active alcoholic and did not want hospice services. His sister was his only family support and she knew her brother needed help with his care at home and that she was getting to the point of not being able to care for him properly without help.
Alyson goes on to describe the struggles the patient had. “The patient desperately did not want to give up his independence and wanted to remain at home. He believed if he allowed hospice in, we would take over, make decisions for him to stop drinking and control how he lived his life. After several falls with injuries, he reluctantly allowed us in,” she explains.
Eventually the patient began to trust his hospice nurses and social worker. “He began to allow us to help him as he saw that the staff was letting him to be in charge of his own care. He decided what medications he felt comfortable taking, he set the schedule as to when the staff would visit him.
Alyson says that in time, the hospice staff became his second family. “He would reach out to staff whenever he felt physical pain, felt alone, scared or the need to drink more than he should. He reached out when he was lonely and needed reassurance that he would be okay. This patient was able to die in the comfort of his own home, under his own rules, as independent as he wanted to be with his sister at his bedside, just being a sister, not a caretaker.”
“The main goal at our hospice is to assist individuals in writing their own ending, helping them to live their life to the fullest on their own terms with dignity, peace and comfort.” Alyson Curry
These stories are ones that hospice professionals see every day. Hospice helps everyone even those who have trouble accepting help. A special thanks to Marietta Pritchard and Alyson Curry for contributing stories that may help others accept the support they need.
*some details have been changed to protect identity of the patient
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