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Hospice; The Blessed Alternative To Painful Death

By James Donahue

Death is big business in America. It also is a frightening part of life since everybody must face it eventually, yet nobody knows for sure what happens to the spirit after the body dies.

My family and I were hit with a double whammy on June 15 when my wife, Doris, died of pancreatic cancer and we received news from New Mexico that my brother, Steve, who had been battling brain cancer, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The grief was overwhelming.

I knew my brother was very ill for months, and did not realize that Doris was as sick as she was until just two weeks before she passed. I am recording this because the experience has revealed more of the corporate greed and injustice linked to the medical profession as well as offering ways to escape the looming drain on the public pocketbooks when dealing with death and dying.

My brother, obviously frightened after being diagnosed with a cancerous and inoperable tumor growing at base of his brain where it joins the spinal column, fled to a cancer center in Phoenix, Arizona, where he prepared to put up a battle for his life anyway. Our sister, who flew to his side, later told me that the doctors there whisked Steve off to surgery where they cut him open to get a biopsy, or a piece of the tumor to identify what kind of cancer existed there. Strangely, the doctors already knew the tumor was inoperable and eventually fatal, so why did they need to have a biopsy?

That operation left Steve nearly totally handicapped. He had already lost his ability to walk and use one arm and he emerged from that operation unable to breathe without a breathing tube, unable to speak, unable to eat or swallow. They inserted a tube in his neck to use for breathing and learning to talk, fed him intravenously, and then started him on a long hard road through physical therapy that lasted for weeks. Then Steve endured more weeks of chemo-therapy that left him sick and weak. It was while in the process of moving him back to his home in Albuquerque that Steve had his heart attack and died.

Why did the doctors do all of these unnecessary things with Steve? Obviously he had pretty good health insurance. It was for money. Steve was so caught up in the shock and worry of what was happening to him that he submitted to the torture, listening to the promise that the treatments might give him a few extra months of life. It was a scam.

Doris and I were fully aware of the big extortion linked to the oncology profession. There are a lot of doctors and specialists out there getting very wealthy treating cancer patients. This is strongly suspected as the reason why there has been little effort involved in really finding a cure for cancer. Sure, we hear almost every week about possible new breakthroughs in cancer treatment, but why haven’t these treatments come into play? We suspect if the miracle cancer drug ever does come on the market, it will cost too much for most of us to use.

The oncology doctor who examined Doris was honest with us. He explained that the cancer she had was too far advanced for him to do anything to save her. He said the pancreas, where the cancer started, is about the only place in the human body that has no nerves, thus she felt no pain or discomfort while the mass grew larger and larger. The pain came when the cancer spread into the adjoining liver, then entered her bones. By the time the doctors examined her, the cancer was aggressively attacking her entire body. The doctor said she had about two weeks or no more than a month to live. He said he could probably extend her life another month or two with chemotherapy, but did not recommend it. He said it would involve a lot of pain and discomfort. He recommended hospice care as a painless alternative.

Of course it was a shock to get such an unexpected death sentence like that. But Doris had an uncanny understanding of death and dying, and she took the news bravely. We signed up for hospice care and she got her affairs in order, then prepared herself for the inevitable.

The hospice team arrived at the house, assessed our situation, and then prepared for the task ahead. They furnished a special hospital bed, a commode, walker, oxygen equipment, and began making regular house calls. Doris began failing almost right away. We noticed a distinct difference every day. The nurses and aides came regularly, bathing and comforting her, giving us advice as to how to move her, and delivering powerful pain medicines that kept her somewhat sedated, but free of pain.

Doris died peacefully in her own home with family gathered around her. In the end we were using a dropper to give her morphine to keep her comfortable. Her death came almost silently. There was a strange moan as the spirit left the body and it was over.

What was so great about the way Doris went out was that our doctor was honest with us and directed us into a painless and, for us anyway, inexpensive way for her to die. Hospice is covered under Medicare. The service was provided by professional medical people, and without charge to us.

The next problem was disposal of the body. Hospice even helped us with this. They contacted the local mortician of our choice and brought a hospice physician in to officially declare Doris dead, then sign the death certificate required by Michigan law. The mortician arrived within the hour. We said our goodbye, wept over our loss, and then the body was carried off.

After listening to the costs of having a traditional funeral, we chose cremation. There was insurance, but just enough to cover this. We were dumbfounded to realize that cost of going through a funeral service and burial. It is all a financial scam. Everybody involved….even the minister that would officiate at the service, had a hand out for money.

I wrote her obituary and was shocked to learn that most newspapers now charge to publish them. The cost in our town was $80. I refused to pay the price. We used e-mail and Facebook to notify our friends and family.