Hospice is a blessing for me.
Far too few people enter hospice, because it focuses on ensuring comfort, not cure. Unfortunately, many patients don’t enter the program because they’re hoping for that cure and don’t want to “give up”. Without successful treatment, they can end up in ICUs, with anxious family members watching as they suffer. At that point, hospice becomes the last resort, and physical comfort is delayed until the last minute. I’ve read that some folks in the medical profession have started leaning toward palliative care and hospice, and I certainly support that view. Studies have shown that patients often live longer in a hospice program compared to going through the debilitating effects of chemo.
Other than a lung transplant, emphysema has no cure, and only gets worse with time. Shortness of breath, which, at its worse has been the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced, is a daily occurrence. Even with medication, Panic attacks and anxiety are a constant companion. My wonderful Pulmonologist put me on palliative care toward the end of last year. In February, I suffered another exacerbation while in the hospital. Looking back, it was quite a scene; I was gasping for breath, flailing my arms about asking for help, nurses were running into my room to help me, and they called some sort of urgent response team. I was lucky to have had such a dedicated group of medical professionals to help me. Anyway, the next day I was accepted into the hospice program. My Mom had been in hospice, so I was at least familiar with how it worked. She passed away in peace, in her home, where she wanted to be.
With hospice, I have a fantastic nurse, Kathy, who visits twice a week to assess my condition, and calls to see how I’m doing. My new buddy, Dave the Chaplain, also visits regularly. They’re a bright spot in my life; something to look forward to, something to make me happy. My wife is always there for support. As I said in a previous post, happiness can be found anywhere. I know that whatever time I have left, I won’t feel alone or scared.
All that being said, this past weekend was not a good one. My appetite disappeared, and I had a half-dozen breathing attacks, mostly as a result of walking to the bathroom, or bending over to pick something up. Before hospice, I was admitted to hospital every single month for almost a year. I’ve been “hospital free” since February, mostly because of being prescribed liquid morphine to calm my breathing attacks. It sounds very counter-intuitive, but just google it. Basically, 30-40 breaths a minute is not good! After a few drops of morphine, it’s calmed down to a normal 15-20 or so. Stick your head under water until you can’t possibly stand it, and that’s what it feels like, except that the airways of a person with emphysema are dead or dying, which makes it even harder to “catch your breath”.
Accepting my condition has been relatively easy; not the yucky parts, but just knowing that my time is shorter than what I had planned when I was 21 years old! As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are”. So all you can do is make each present moment a gift from God. I may not be where I thought I’d be, but I’m here now!