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Dying with dignity and in comfort

DURING THE last couple of months, I have been in and out of various hospitals, either for simple outpatient procedures or for all kinds of cardiovascular and pulmonary tests that require confinement. In many instances both of my arms have been repeatedly pricked for blood samples or for insertions in preparation for intravenous injections.

Almost 20 years ago I had a heart bypass operation involving three blocked arteries. For the average person this operation implies a lot of dreadful and painful procedures. Actually, it was not that bad. After anesthesia is applied, the surgical team opens up your chest and gets veins from your legs for bridging purposes.

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The difficulty begins after the anesthesia wears off. In fact I remember one morning at the intensive care unit, I opened my eyes after a restless night and saw a man in a white robe at a distance moving closer. For a while I thought I was at the pearly gates where St. Peter was directing traffic, sending people down or opening the doors to heaven. I was not sure if he was signaling me to go down or up. But as the figure moved closer I realized that he was a priest. My next thought was the priest was here to render extreme unction. Fortunately, the priest was Fr. Tom Shanahan of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, who had dropped by to say hello and to lift my spirits.

In between the bypass operation and my recent difficulties, I also underwent two angioplasty procedures and another involving facial surgery for a nasty accident I had at home.

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I’ve been confined in several hospitals—St. Luke’s Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, Chinese General Hospital, and the Philippine Heart Center. One could say that I am a veteran of many medical battles and have learned to cope with the difficulties and inconveniences of hospitalization.

Just to squelch any speculations concerning my present health, let me say that I am in relatively good shape. I stress the modifier “relatively.” Early last year my kidneys started to complain about their workload, and suggested that I seek outside help. I have done so and should be back on the golf course next month.

My stay at all these hospitals has provided me with a first-hand, close-up view of the sufferings of those who are confined to hospital beds, or have limited mobility requiring a lot of assistance. Most often the patients look to me in bad shape, with all kinds of tubes sticking out from various parts of their bodies, and nearby machines keeping them alive.

Only doctors can make judgments about the true conditions of these patients. But it appears to me that there ought to be a more humane way of preparing people for the inevitable instead of trying to keep them alive amidst so much pain and discomfort.

Somehow I was reminded that only last month, the mother of one of my dear friends passed away. She was in her 90s and had been in and out of the hospital. While her doctor indicated that there was nothing else that could be done for her, the family continued to cling to hopes that she would survive and go on with her life. Of course since the family indicated that they were not giving up on her, the patient continued to be subjected to all kinds of procedures that only prolonged her suffering. One cannot speak of life under those conditions.

When she died the autopsy of her body showed so many holes where tubes had been inserted in a vain attempt to keep her alive. For all we know she must have endured much pain because of these procedures.

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Last month, New York City hosted a conference on the Art of Dying, sponsored by the New York Open Center. It brought together leaders, researches and practitioners in the area of death and dying, including the professional fields of palliative and hospice care. The conference aimed to build and support engaged communities by offering soulful and holistic approaches to death and dying.

Among the speakers of the conference was Dr. Leslie Black Hall, an associate professor of medicine and medical humanities at the University of Virginia, and director of the Palliative Care Research Program. The mission of the palliative care program is to improve the quality of life of patients with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Another speaker was Dr. Judith Kennedy Schwarz, RN, PhD, a consultant and advocate in end-of-life care. She has had a 10-year association with the group “Compassion and Choices,” that supports choice and improved care of the dying and where she has worked closely with terminally ill patients and their families. She is a frequent lecturer on ethical and clinical issues related to end-of-life care.

In the Philippines, three lady professionals—Dr. Zenaida Panganiban, Grace Chua-Chiaco, an occupational therapist, and Barbara Mangrobang, a palliative nurse—have joined together to establish a Palliative and Hospice care facility inside George Dewey Medical and Wellness Center in Subic.

For those not too familiar with these terms, palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses focusing on providing patients with relief from symptoms, pain, physical and mental stress, resulting from the illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both patient and family. In a sense, palliative care means therapies without curative intent, when no cure can be expected. Most physicians have traditionally concentrated on trying to cure the patient.

Hospice care is end-of-life care. It focuses on caring, not curing, and helps family members to manage the practical details and emotional challenges of caring for a dying loved one. The goal of hospice care is to help people who are dying, to have peace, comfort and dignity. When medical treatment can no longer cure a disease, hospice professionals can help to control pain, reduce anxiety, and offer spiritual and emotional support to patients and their families.

Studies show that the Philippines has a growing elderly population. The increasing incidence of lingering illnesses makes alternative care and comfort of patients an important consideration.

Serenity Palliative Specialists officially opens on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. It is located at Villa Amorosa, Upper Cubi Point, Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Alongside this facility is Renal Friendly Dialysis Center, providing dialysis services for patients with renal problems.

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