By Lin Sue Cooney
As I walk through the cereal aisle at Safeway, someone taps me on the shoulder. I already know what’s coming. A lovely compliment about missing me on the news… and a question: How do you like working for Hospice of the Valley?
They’re never prepared for the passion in my eyes when I tell them how much I love it. A few express doubt, timidly asking, "Isn’t it depressing?"
That always makes me smile. If only they knew what an honor it is to serve families facing the hardest journey of their lives. No one wants to say goodbye to someone we desperately love — yet we all must, eventually. What’s depressing is the thought of facing that last chapter lost and alone. What a tragedy to waste one second of the precious time that’s left.
A terminal diagnosis is never easy to cope with, but it’s less terrifying if someone is walking alongside you. The decisions you make can dramatically alter your end-of-life journey, so let’s dispel some myths about hospice care.
You lose your doctor
Hospice of the Valley staffer Joel Soto, RN, cares for patient Debra Jelinek. (Photo: Hospice of the Valley)
Hospice is about choice. If you have a doctor you like and trust and want involved in your care, you can have that! Hospice teams work alongside your primary-care physician to develop the best plan of care for you. Together we support your goals and desires — it’s YOUR journey.
Hospice care in your home is expensive
Even though our care teams come to you, wherever you live — you don’t have to worry about cost. Medicare Part A covers hospice care, medical equipment and medications needed to treat your illness. No Medicare? Most insurance plans cover hospice. And if you don't have insurance — not-for-profit Hospice of the Valley will care for you regardless of ability to pay. It’s been our mission for 40 years — an important distinction from for-profit hospices.
You can’t change your mind
You’re always free to leave hospice care to pursue additional treatments or try a new therapy. There is no rule requiring you to stay on hospice. Patients come on and sign off whenever they choose — it’s their decision.
Hospice hastens death
This may be the most disturbing perception of all. Hospice care is about controlling pain and keeping patients comfortable, NOT hurrying death. Not only is euthanasia illegal, it is contrary to our mission — which is enhancing every moment you have left, not cheating you out of even a sliver of life.
All hospices are the same
Just as all restaurants are not the same, all music is not similar and all people certainly are not — hospices vary in their level of experience and expertise. Medicare allows you to choose your own hospice, but if you don’t make a choice, someone — a hospital, a doctor, a facility — will choose for you. Fortunately, if you’re ever dissatisfied with a hospice, all it takes is a phone call to change to another.
You go on hospice to die
Often when patients stop curative treatment and start receiving hospice care, something amazing happens. The social support, nursing care and physician management stabilizes their condition and quality of life actually improves. Multiple studies show that receiving hospice sooner in the disease process can often extend life. Imagine coming on hospice to live longer!
Hospice teams also support families — helping with important decisions, educating about what to expect, even counseling after a loved one dies. It’s the most personalized, patient- and family-focused care there is!
That warm blanket that keeps the chill away. A soft touch brushing your hair. A sweet voice humming a familiar melody. It’s comfort and dignity when a disease has robbed you of the hold you once had on life. Hospice gives you back some control and focuses on helping you maximize the quality in your life. Hospice is hope.
Lin Sue Cooney is director of community engagement for Hospice of the Valley. She was a newscaster at 12 News for 31 years.