Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I heard a story today that’s a carbon copy of dozens I’ve encountered. In a meeting with hospice staff, the patient asked that a particular pain med regimen be continued. Her family members, though, vociferously demanded much stronger meds. The hospice people countered that their patient’s wishes in the matter were clear. Tempers flared.

What does one do here?

The hospice people decided that emotions were running too high to allow a reasonable discussion at the moment, so withdrew with a promise to talk with the family the next day. The next morning, the hospice team interviewed these relatives outside the presence of the patient. It turned out they were frantic from witnessing their loved one hurting, and so wanted the maximum done for her. During this conversation they came to realize their motivation was based less in her than in their own suffering. They opened up, talked about it, cried, and finally relinquished their demands for different treatment.

I thought the hospice team handled this beautifully. It seems a common ethic in hospice circles is to constantly ask the question, “Who’s suffering here, and from what?”

When we practitioners assume the patient is our only mission, the suffering of those around that person diminishes in our view to almost negligible. But if we can widen our scope at the bedside and ask that question, we’ll not only help heal others that are hurting, but certainly make our own day easier.

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