Providing comfort in the face of death

2013-05-02 00:00

BEARER of comfort and support, not gloom. That’s one of the main messages Msunduzi Hospice wants to get across, as the organisation celebrates its 30th birthday this month, with events lined up to raise awareness of the valuable community work it does. To kick off, Hospice is holding an open day tomorrow to show its work to the public.

One of its challenges is overcoming people’s fear of death, and their association of Hospice with that subject.

“There are some who believe that Hospice has a gloomy connotation, but clearly they do not know about the work we do for those in a difficult situation,” says patient-care manager Sheena Sivraman.

“We do not cause harm or death. Death is a natural process and our job is to offer comfort and counsel, and help those in distress. Our staff are well-trained in palliative care and they know how to care for the terminally ill person, and how to offer relief when the family is at the end of its tether.”

Many people do not confront death until they are dying, or until a relative has been diagnosed with a terminal disease.

For Hospice, business is about helping those who have an incurable disease, to live with it and come to terms with their approaching death, and more importantly, helping them live fully until their time is up. Hospice also helps families deal with the bereavement process after their loved ones have died.

In the past, its work used to be focused on cancer sufferers, but with the Aids epidemic, there are many more opportunistic diseases. Those who need care belong to all age groups and all race groups, and reaching out to everyone in need is a huge challenge for Msunduzi Hospice, which relies on financial donations.

“There is a huge demand and the government’s resources are stretched, and we find ourselves getting referrals from other health-care facilities when their patients have reached a stage where treatment is no longer viable,” said CEO Warren Oxford-Huggett.

“We do not offer in-house care, so we have to reach all our patients with a network of Hospice nurses, community care workers and social workers. We make sure that the patient is assessed and the family is briefed on how to look after the patient so that they are comfortable.

“Sometimes the nurse needs to educate the family about small things that make a big difference, such as bathing or medication routines, or pain-management techniques. But often the nurse doubles as a counsellor.

“She can chat to the patient about things that are troubling him or her. The patient may be upset with a relative who is not visiting, or they may feel an urge to talk to a priest or religious counsellor.”

Sivraman added: “We strive to offer physical, mental and emotional support. It is all about getting the patient comfortable with the idea of dying and making sure they work through any issues that may be holding them back.

“In the case of a grandmother who is looking after her daughter’s children, we will make sure the social workers start the process of alerting the Department of Social Welfare. This will give her peace of mind that the children won’t be left helpless.

“The Hospice philosophy is all about improving the quality of life for those who have been diagnosed with a terminally ill disease so they can die with dignity. For many people, the idea of death is terrifying. Most people are terrified of being in pain and alone. Others are worried about those who will be left behind.”

Hospice also runs a course for volunteers and interested members of the public on th e Hospice philosophy. Oxford-Huggett said it is a fascinating course, and it made him aware of his own mortality.

“The course is a valuable awareness tool for anyone who wants to shift their consciousness. You realise that while you are alone in the world, you are also part of something much bigger.

“We often find that when hospital staff have realised they have finished helping a person in a medical sense, they tell the person: ‘we can’t do anything more, go home.’

“But the patient doesn’t know what that means, they are hoping and fearing. Their symptoms get worse and then we are asked to see them.

“We are happy to help, but only when the patient and their family accept that dying is inevitable.”

Sivraman said that sadly, too many people are dying because of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of access to resources. “The need for caring and palliative skills is stronger than ever.”

Msunduzi Hospice has been training nurses in the New Prison hospital to cope with terminally ill prisoners, and some of the prisoners have signed up to become community caregivers, so they can offer palliative care if they become eligible for parole.

And a group of traditional healers has also been through a training course to learn about palliative care and how to counsel patients who have a terminal illness.

Oxford-Huggett said this is a very exciting development and will reap benefits for communities.

Hospice has invited health-networking partners to help provide health tests and screenings for the public at the open day.

• To find out more about Msundusi Hospice, see their website: www.hospicekzn.co.za

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