FROM THE EDITOR'S PEN
/ The Smallest Kindness
Today we are in Tennessee, about to hold our second
annual Nashville Fearless Caregiver Conference. I am
looking forward to once again seeing our partners at
the Greater Nashville Regional Council Area Agency
on Aging, talking with Clay Walker and Steve Moses,
and meeting new friends and caregivers during the
day. If this conference is anything like the
previous 91 events, there will be tons of laughter,
tears and in-depth conversations about crucial
topics such as long-term care, care management,
respite and hospice.
One of the greatest challenges new family caregivers
face is that our preparation for joining our loved
one’s care team traditionally begins with a
middle-of-the-night emergency phone call.
Almost immediately upon hanging up the receiver, we
need to thoroughly understand everything about the
kinds of services I just mentioned.
Yet, in the case of hospice care, so many times the
ones in need of education turn out to be our
doctors. I actually do understand the conflict
that some doctors feel in regard to recommending
hospice care. They may think of it as a personal
failure or a surrender of their duties to heal their
patients. In fact, nothing could be further
from the truth; when hospice is required, it can be
the best medicine possible for their patients.
Yet, there is one more step necessary for our
doctors to consider when hospice care is the right
diagnosis and that is to not abandon their patients
and family members.
A study conducted last year by Anthony Back, a
professor of medicine at the University of
Washington, showed that there is more that needs to
be done when hospice care is instituted. Back and
his co-authors interviewed 31 doctors and 55 of
their patients, all of whom had incurable cancer or
advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and
were expected to die within a year. They also
interviewed 36 family caregivers and 25 nurses.
According to their study published in the Archives
of Internal Medicine, abandonment was a significant
issue to family caregivers and their loved ones.
This makes so much sense. The best relationship we
have with our loved one’s doctors is when they act
as our guide or Sherpa through the horror that can
be the healthcare system. And it is at the end
of this journey when the smallest act of kindness
from them can mean the most. Although nobody
is busier than today’s doctor, a phone call to a
family member of a patient in hospice care can be
the best medicine he or she can offer. And may
just possibly bring a much needed sense of closure
to them as well.