Palliative Care

Palliative care has assumed greater importance, as people are living longer. Modern medicine has cured diseases and brought great advances that were unimaginable a hundred years ago. The average life span has nearly doubled during the last century. While people are living longer, they’re now facing health challenges that were less prevalent before—severe chronic illness, cancer, lung disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s—debilitating conditions that often cause great pain and suffering. For many people nearing the end of their lives, palliative care—relief from pain and suffering—is often not readily available.

The scenario many people fear is being kept barely alive in their final days or weeks, attached to machines—IVs stuck in their arms, feeding tubes to help them eat, ventilators to help them breathe. Not the most comfortable setting for patients who’d prefer a peaceful end to their lives. Most people would like to avoid hospitals in their last days of life.1

Photo by Marty Hadding

The Role of Hospice in Promoting End of Life Care

Luca Singer, former resident of Zen Hospice Project

For the last sixty years, hospice has provided an alternative to the sterile hospital environment. For example, the quiet surroundings of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco stand in sharp contrast to the sterile hospital environment. The hospice is located in an old Victorian in the heart of the city’s downtown. Luca Singer has lived there for the last three weeks. He’s been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The goal of Zen Hospice Project is comfort care. Luca is housed in a room with large bay windows filled with natural sunlight. He calls the hospice his “healing sanctuary.” Luca’s brain tumor causes him sharp pain at times and he suffers from heavy depression. Luca is receiving palliative care—pain medication to help manage his discomfort and gentle ministrations to address his psychic and spiritual pain. “I feel like royalty and I feel spoiled from the moment I wake to the moment I go to sleep,” said Luca, “I couldn’t be in a better place.” He added, “The people here just magical, loving, caring people. The vibration here is healing and the food’s amazing.”

Good food is part of the comfort care provided by Zen Hospice Project. The kitchen staff prepares specially prepared meals, tailored to each resident’s need. Luca looks forward to his meals every day and calls the food “high-end restaurant quality.”

The kitchen at Zen Hospice Project
Palliative care is more than just pain relief and medications. A person at the end of life often experiences a host of other issues—stress, anxiety, fear of death, or
Zen Hospice Project
Executive Director George Kellar
depression. When the hospice movement first started in the 1960s, it pioneered the team approach that addresses the whole person. Team members usually include a doctor, nurse, chaplain, and social workers, all working together with the patients at the center of care. “What we attempt to do is be present with the person,” said Zen Hospice Project director George Kellar said, “Don’t rush anything, don’t force anything. Just see what unfolds, where they’re comfortable. May I touch you? Would you like me to hold your hand? Would you like your feet raised? Are you warm? Or just be quiet and that unfolds into a communication.”

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