This week, because of the end of life choices and passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush, we’ve heard a lot about comfort care. It was reported she made the decision to end hospital treatment in favour of comfort care, but do we all understand what that choice meant? How much do we really understand the care options available to the elderly and infirm?
Let’s be honest, this is not an easy topic to think about. We have all been through the process of losing a loved one and to consider how to manage another end of life situation brings up a whole conglomerate of emotions. Now, while we may be dominated by our hearts at such a time and feel desperate to keep those we love with us for however long we can; it is important to give the head some consideration. In some situations, seeking to treat an illness is simply no longer the appropriate option, and then it is time to consider comfort care, so it helps to be prepared and understand what that means.
Comfort care is the Americanised version of what we call “end of life care”, which involves focusing on the holistic care of a patient; ensuring the best possible quality of life and providing compassionate care to both the patient and their family. It not only looks at the physical side of comfort, but also the psychological, psychosocial and spiritual. This falls under the umbrella term of palliative care, which means any management of the symptoms, pain and side effects of a terminal illness. Once a patient decides that the treatments are no longer the route they want to take, palliative care continues as end of life care and hospice care. The patient then has support (either at home or in a hospice) with nurses, spiritual guidance from chaplains and bereavement services to ease the process for all involved. It can give the patient and their family time to process the situation, say the goodbyes they want to and put their affairs in order; without the effects of treatment for a chronic and incurable illness.
Dealing with death is difficult, whether through the practicalities of care or the emotional upheaval it symbolises, there’s no denying it. The process of dying also looks different to everyone. We all have our own perspective on what it would mean to go peacefully; whether it’s avoiding hospitals, ticking off items on a bucket list or making sure you’ve tried every medical option possible. So, by examining hospice care as an alternative to continuing treatment, you may find a way to ease the pain of your loved one; and afterwards find comfort yourself in knowing you helped them achieve a peaceful death in their eyes.
Despite the turmoil in American politics lately, Barbara Bush was recognised across Twitter for her choice to decline further treatment, feeling the decision represented the kindness and compassion for others she had shown during her lifetime. The official statement from the Bush family mentioned that this choice was partly motivated by “her concern for others” – presumably she saw this as the way to save her loved ones some pain. The high-profile nature of this family means that we get a glimpse at the patient’s rationale for choosing end of life care. Ending treatment does not have to be seen with any stigma, simply the way to best honour the wishes of the person who is dying.