Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lest We Forget …

The life and work of Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, was memorable for many reasons. She was tenacious in her desire to provide end-of-life care. Take for example, her determination to be heard and to be a voice for the helpless. “Compelled by her mission, she volunteered at St. Joseph's Hospice in London. Because the patients were perceived as beyond help, the nuns didn’t stick to pain control guidelines. Saunders learned to administer morphine before pain appeared, thus staying ahead of the pain. This would later influence her ideas about pain management and treatment. Saunders conceived of giving patients a regular pain control schedule, which, in her words, “was like waving a wand over the situation.” Her surgeon friend advised Saunders that if she were dedicated to pain management and caring for the terminally ill, people wouldn’t listen to a nurse. So, at the age of 33, at a time when there were few women doctors, she studied to be a physician. When she earned her medical degree in 1957 she became the first modern doctor to devote her career to dying patients. While still working at St. Joseph’s, she met the second Pole in her life, 60-year old Antoni Michniewicz. He inspired her to name her own hospice for people in the final stage of life’s journey. He suggested she name it after the patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher. It would take her another ten years to open St. Christopher’s Hospice, the world's first modern hospice. And she’d spend more than 50 years trying to humanize the dying experience for patients and their families.” ( In addition to dogged determination, was a sense of deep internal reflection which prompted her to coin the term, “total pain.” This included physical, emotional, social, and spiritual elements. She focused on caring for the whole person and enfolding their family and friends within that care. This led to the development of a new medical specialty, palliative care, and modern hospice philosophy. Chaplains were always a part of her care team. Now, here we are in 2014, some 30+ years into the hospice movement. Some have called it a hospice “industry”. Those of us committed to the spirit of the hospice movement must never allow the new normal to eradicate the pioneering and compassionate approach of our founder, Dr. Cicely Saunders.

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