Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Heart of Hospice Heroine

I grew up in a day when heroes and heroines were all the rage. There was John Wayne, the man's man. The man everyman wanted to become. Mother Teresa taught the world servanthood among the world's poorest. There are many other men and women I admire as great people, world changers. So, heroes and heroine's are part of the fabric of my life. There is a woman who I identify as the Heart of Hospice--Dame Cicely Saunders. I have been in hospice work nearly 10 years and one of my concerns is that since we have transitioned from a hospice movement to a hospice industry, we might be guilty of forgetting our roots. Dame Cicely is the mother of the modern hospice movement. I admire her for her compassion, her faith, her commitment to the most vulnerable among us, her indefatigable effort to advocate for the care of patients at the end of life. A story is told of how she went from being a nurse, to a social worker, to a physician. As a nurse she advocated for her patients at the end of life to the physicians. She was not heard by the physicians. She then put in the time and effort and became a physician herself. Her voice roared for the cause of patients and she founded St. Christopher's Hospice in 1967. Under Dr. Saunder's leadership hospice provided a holistic approach for caring for a patient's physical, spiritual and psychological well-being. This marked a new beginning, not only for the care of the dying but for the practice of medicine as a whole. Dame Cicely coined the term "total pain." This new term identified spiritual, existential, and psychological pain as part of the plan of care. In modern hospice care, the patient receives excellent medical care that will keep them out of physical pain. In addition, a degreed social worker and a skilled Chaplain provide care for the spiritual and existential pain from which the patient suffers. It is a total team effort to provide pain relief on every level. The entire hospice care team, called the Interdisciplinary Team, focuses on the needs of the patient. What a wonderful concept! As I reflect upon my many interactions with hospice patients I am so grateful for the privilege to serve patients at the most sensitive and vulnerable times of the lives. Were it not for the historic work of Dame Cicely Saunders hospice would not exist. Yes, Dame Cicely Saunders is a heroine for her work and for who she was a human being. .

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