Hospice Provides Comfort and Support During Final Days

November 27, 2018
Older couple holding hands

Selina Butterworth slept soundly as her husband of 59 years stood watch by her Hospital bed. It was early afternoon on October 17 and nearly a year and a half after she had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.

Battling cancer was not easy for Selina. The former Middlesex Hospital Emergency Department nurse arrived at the Hospital one spring night in 2017 because she did not feel well and knew something was wrong. Her gallbladder was removed, and cancer was found.

Selina did receive chemotherapy treatment and was in remission for six months before cancer returned. According to her husband, Jeremy Butterworth, Selina opted to forgo another round of treatment. Instead, they made arrangements for her care.

After spending a few days in Middlesex Hospital’s Comfort Care Unit, Selina entered the Hospice Program and was sent home. Hospice, which is for those who have a life expectancy of about six months and choose not to pursue more aggressive treatment, is a Homecare program that helps patients and their families maintain comfort and quality of life. If a patient’s symptoms cannot be managed in the home, they can be admitted to the Comfort Care Unit where they are monitored frequently.

Selina, who eventually needed to return to the Comfort Care Unit to receive her medication through an IV, was at Middlesex for another week before she died at age 81 on October 18. A cot had been placed in her room so that her husband and daughters could spend as much time with her as possible, and her family said they were pleased with the care she received – both in the home and at the Hospital.

“Hospice is not a place,” says Dr. William Zeidler, medical director of Middlesex’s Hospice Program. "It is a program."

Dr. William Zeidler

Hospice Program team members include nurses, social workers, therapists, aides, spiritual care workers and volunteers, and they are all skilled in helping families when they are faced with making difficult decisions. They anticipate symptoms and educate families on the dying process, while maintaining the comfort and safety of the patient in the home. They listen and give support, and they can help facilitate conversations between family members."The goal is for the staff to empower families to take care of their loved ones," says Susan Daniels, Hospice Program director.Dr. Zeidler says there are currently about 100 people throughout Middlesex County receiving Hospice services from Middlesex. About one-third of those patients have cancer; one-third have diseases that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease; and one-third are dealing with chronic medical problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). With resources available around the clock – every day of the year, Hospice care is an opportunity for individuals to live their final days in as much comfort as possible in their own homes.

What you need to know

  • It’s never too early to start talking to your loved ones about goals of care. This is an important conversation to have, especially if someone has a life-threatening illness. You don’t want to make big decisions when you are in a crisis,” Daniels says. 
  • How do you start a conversation about goals of care? Dr. Zeidler says an opportune time is when you are discussing a living will. You can also play a card game called Go Wish, a game designed to help people talk about what is important to them.
  • Always ask questions, and advocate for yourself or your loved one!
  • Many people confuse Hospice with Palliative Care, but they are different programs. Hospice is specifically for those who cannot be cured and who have a life expectancy of about six months. Middlesex’s Palliative Care Program provides supportive care and manages any distress caused by a serious illness to patients and their families. Palliative care can be provided in the Hospital, through Homecare or in a clinic setting. Patients receiving palliative care can, and do, receive treatments for their illnesses. 
  • The Hospital’s Comfort Care Unit, located on South 7, services both Hospice and Palliative Care patients as needed.

For more information about Middlesex’s Hospice Program, call 860-358-5700. For more information about Middlesex’s Palliative Care Program, call 860-358-4770.

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