A difficult problem arises as society advances and medical technologies and treatments improve. In times like these, it is hard not to strive for the most aggressive form of treatment for one’s patient in hopes of prolonging their life. Yet, the endeavor of the medical profession should not solely be based on survival, but overall well-being. My hospice experience has shed light on the importance of not only palliative care, but overall end-of-life care for the patient. Thus, when considering the course of treatment, it is very important to weigh the patient’s values and goals over aggressive medical treatments that would restrict these goals. However, this information cannot be known unless one engages in deeper conversations about death with the patient, which requires the ability to address death and dying head on with both compassion and honesty.
Death is an uncomfortable word for most people. Whether people find themselves comforting someone dealing with loss, or dealing with a death themselves, people are often unsure of the correct way to act, and thus need guidance. The ability for a physician to intervene and engage the patient and his or her family in early care planning is a very important aspect of the profession today. It allows patients to reflect on their goals, and lets them live out their final days the way they would like to. It also initiates an honest discussion among the patients and their family, which ultimately provides closure for for individual family members facing a loss, but even more importantly for the patient. Speaking from a personal perspective, a loved one entering end-of-life care is a hard concept to grasp and accept. However, the sooner one addresses and accepts this topic, the fewer regrets one has after the death and the more closure one is able to have.
My hospice experience has helped me understand all the factors that play into end-of-life care that are more than just palliative care. Through my relationship with my patient, Abba Zabba, I have realized the importance of human contact and care for one’s end of life journey. A terminal illness requires a lot of time spent focusing on a patient, and often is too much for a family to handle alone. Hospice reduces the stress for a family, and is able to not only provide medical help, but also emotional help for patients. As one nears the end of his or her life, one begins to reflect on past memories. Thus, it is very important for this person to have an outlet for these thoughts and other fears. Many of my conversations with Abba Zabba have been about his life and best memories; he has shared tidbits of life advice as well. Though I entered this volunteer program expecting to solely make an impact on my patient, he has ended up impacting me.
Overall, this experience has increased my understanding and comfort regarding the many issues surrounding the conversation about death, which will ultimately allow me to provide the best course of action for my future patients. An individual’s discomfort in addressing death should not inhibit his or her ability to provide the best care for his or her patient. This hospice experience has made me realize that the best course of treatment involves one that encompasses overall well-being including spiritual, emotional, and medical care.