I recently had the opportunity to talk with Shelley Sisson about a very important topic, end of life hospice care, on an episode of “Your Hope-Filled Perspective with Dr. Michelle Bengtson:” Hope When Our Loved One is Terminally Ill or Requires Hospice Care. Shelley is a retired hospice and palliative care nurse. While considering the end of life for ourselves or family members brings fear to many, Shelley has a much different, and more hopeful perspective. She shares 4 myths about hospice care.
4 Myths About Hospice Care
By Shelley Sisson, RN
You’ve been fighting for your health or the health of a loved one for such a long time. You are in a battle mode. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you receive the diagnosis from the doctor: your diagnosis is terminal and hospice care is recommended. You feel as though all hope is lost. That entering hospice care is giving up. But, oh my friend, look at it from a different perspective. Look at it through God’s lens.
We are all terminal, from the moment we are born. Our goal is to live with our Savior, it’s in our DNA. This hard journey you’ve been on and will continue to be on isn’t without its sweet moments and precious memories. Look for them. Joshua 1:9 encourages us, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” He is here with you as you walk this path and beyond; even in hospice care.
Hospice care is not without hope. Our hope is in Him. Hospice will come in and help you with medications, symptom management, personal care, medical equipment, volunteers and lots of support emotionally, spiritually, and physically–all in the comfort of your home (wherever that may be).
The following are some unfortunate common myths about hospice care:
1. I don’t have cancer so I can’t use hospice care.
Hospice is for any diagnosis that the doctor has given a terminal prognosis of 6 months or less. That includes heart disease, Alzheimer’s, kidney failure, or pulmonary fibrosis to name just a few. You won’t automatically be discharged from hospice at the 6-month mark, if you still meet criteria, your hospice care will “re-certify” you for another 6 months.
2. I killed my mom/dad/loved one because I gave the last dose of morphine (or other medication).
There will always be a last dose. Someone is going to give the last dose, but it is not the last dose that has caused the death. The disease progression caused the death. Not you. Don’t let that guilt and shame enter into your life. It simply is a lie of satan in attempts to steal your hope.
3. I starved my family member to death.
The main thing to remember here is in a normal body, we need food for energy. Some of us like food more than others so we consume more, but it is still only used for energy in our bodies. As we die, we naturally will not eat because we are not exerting energy. If we are not exerting energy, we will not be hungry. (Now, this does not apply to someone with anorexia, they are choosing not to eat because of other issues. They are usually extremely active. If they continue to starve themselves, they will cause their body to die.) But in someone who has a terminal illness or just a very elderly person who cannot exert energy, their appetite will decrease. And as this disease progresses, their gag reflex will diminish. So, if we force them to eat or drink, they will start coughing afterwards which is a sign that their gag reflex is not working properly. If we continue to push food and liquids, that food/liquid will find its way into their lungs and make them immensely more uncomfortable and possibly fighting pneumonia on top of their terminal symptoms. You can always offer them food and liquid, but be mindful if they turn their head away from the spoon, stop the process, or if they start coughing consistently after feeding them, stop.
4. I’m giving up if I enter hospice care.
You most definitely aren’t giving up. Continue to pray to the God who still performs miracles to this day. If He does grant you a miracle on this side of Heaven, then rejoice and be discharged from hospice care! By entering into hospice care, you ARE choosing a different path. A path without all the pokes and prods that won’t lengthen your life. You ARE choosing quality over quantity. In most cases, your quality of life improves because you aren’t making unnecessary trips to doctor offices or hospital emergency rooms that, again, won’t lengthen your life span. You ARE choosing to have help come into your home instead. You are choosing comfort.
I also encourage you to look for Jesus. If your loved one is staring at the ceiling, ask them, “Who do you see?” Listen to some of the most beautiful stories you will ever hear. These are not medication-induced hallucinations. Almost every single patient will stare into the corner of a ceiling. They may be seeing Jesus or a family member who is already in Heaven. Don’t be afraid of this journey, be strong in our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
About Shelley Sisson
Shelley was a Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse for 12 years and worked all over the United States, but mostly in Oklahoma and Central Texas. She retired and moved back to Oklahoma.
She still has a passion for all things hospice and what it provides to patients and their families.
Crossing the Creek: A Practical Guide to Understanding the Dying Process by Michael Holmes
Living at the End of Life: A Hospice Nurse Addresses the Most Common Questions by Karen Whitley Bell, RN
Changing the Way We Die: Compassionate End of Life Care and The Hospice Movement by Fran Smith, Sheila Himmel, and Joan Halifax
Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, winner of the Christian Literary Award Reader’s Choice Award.
Hope Prevails Bible Study by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, winner of the Christian Literary Award Reader’s Choice Award.