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In Our View / Hospice care can help

Easing pain of the dying

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Sadly, it's too late to help Linda and Donald McNeely. But to learn from tragedy, to help others, it's important that people know this fact: When someone is suffering intractable pain, we have options to help them; we do not need to shoot people to put them out of their misery.
Last week Donald McNeely, 55, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and sentenced to two years in prison for shooting his wife Linda, 52. He told authorities that she was suffering so much, she begged him to kill her.
Pain will, in fact, make people say things like that. But pain medication can make it tolerable, and/or sedate the dying person enough to be able sleep.
A person suffering; a spouse at a loss as how to help. This is exactly why hospice care exists.
Hospice exists to help in cases exactly like Linda McNeely's, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010, and in the fall of 2011, was told she had six months to live. In February 2012, McNeely shot his wife.
Hospice exists for the spouses and families of those who are diagnosed with a terminal illness. Caring for a dying loved one is not a job for a spouse or child alone. The stress and strain of being the sole caretaker is great. Hospice exists to let people know they are not alone.
Here are some facts about hospice, according to the national organization:
•Hospice care neither prolongs life nor hastens death. Hospice staff and volunteers offer a specialized knowledge of medical care, including pain management.

  • The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of a patient's last days by offering comfort and dignity.
  • Hospice care is provided by a team-oriented group of specially trained professionals, volunteers and family members.
  • Hospice addresses all symptoms of a disease, with a special emphasis on controlling a patient's pain and discomfort.

And while people associate hospice care with the final days of life, the organization can help be of help much earlier. Hospice can help from the time of diagnosis to death, and the earlier such care is employed the better. A study released this week found that more people are using hospice, as in a hospital or nursing home compared with a decade ago, but that is often treated as a last resort -- and used too late to benefit patients and their families.
Even for those given a terminal diagnosis, death is difficult to accept, and impossible for some to discuss. Making it even more critical that "hospice can help" is a message every patient with a terminal illness and their family needs to hear.
(For more information, contact Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County.)

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