Hospice is about living

December 21, 2011

Though Medford resident Butch Naumes was heartbroken when he said goodbye to his brother, longtime St. Mary's educator Patrick Naumes, Butch and his family found solace in sharing quality time at the end with Patrick, who died in October after a battle with cancer.

Patrick spent his last days in the care of Providence Home Health and Hospice, and family members say they are thankful for the care hospice provides. The family unfortunately was familiar with hospice before Patrick's ordeal. Just a few years earlier, Patrick's mother also received hospice care, allowing her to spend her final days at home rather than a hospital.

Diane Kosmatka of Providence Home Health and Hospice says misconceptions sometimes prevent patients from seeking hospice services as soon as they might. Hospice helps manage symptoms and prepare families for the inevitable, she says, and in some cases can actually prolongs a patient's life simply by easing the pain and stress patients experience when telling their families goodbye.

The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of a patient's last days by offering comfort and dignity, Kosmatka says.

Butch Naumes says his brother was comfortable in his final days, with his drug levels adjusted and all his needs being met.

"Patrick planned where to put the hospital bed, picked his caregivers and he was happy being in his own house. He liked looking at his own stuff. No one wants to die in a hospital," Naumes says.

"One thing that nobody ever says about hospice is, 'Gee, I wish we hadn't called them so soon,' " says Maureen Esser, development coordinator for Lovejoy Hospice in Grants Pass, which serves people in remote, rural areas. Its caregivers sometimes log hundreds of miles on back roads in order to do their work.

"It's such a lifeline for people," Esser says, noting that not everyone assigned to hospice, in fact, dies when doctors say they will.

"We often have patients who will get better for a while and plateau instead of falling down the expected trajectory," Esser says.

"There are people who, once the pain is managed, it's a whole different story. A family can be coming unhinged because their pain is not managed and they're so on edge. Sometimes when we come in and begin providing services, they can actually go off of hospice for a while."

Butch Naumes says his mother provided a prime example of how hospice can prolong life.

"Mom was on hospice, so they took her off all the pills because they take you off everything except what you need to be comfortable," he says. "When she got off all the pills, she started feeling better, so hospice 'fired her,' and we got to keep her for about another year or so," he says.

"Hospice is a tremendous tool," Naumes says. "It's good for the family, and it helps get your life in order. In some cases, it improves quality and quantity because the patients get to feeling so much better."

Kosmatka says hospice should be associated with living, rather than dying.

"A lot of people put off calling us because they think it means sure death," she says. "Hospice is about quality of life and making the best of what we have left. It's not about dying. It's about really living."