Dear Family Resource,
I’ve been the primary caregiver for my husband who is losing his five-year fight against cancer. My husband’s doctor said he has only a month or two to live, and that soon he’ll need to go to a hospice where they have medical equipment like an oxygen tank and morphine pump to manage his pain. We live in a small town and the only hospice is a two-hour drive away. I’m so torn. My husband knows he’s dying and wants to spend his last weeks at home but he also doesn’t tolerate pain well. Do you think I can manage his care at home or should I do what the doctor suggests?
Dear Torn Wife,
I’m glad you wrote. Hospice is an amazing program that provides care to the terminally ill in a safe and caring environment and I highly recommend it. You don’t need to choose between hospice and home; you can have both. While there are hospice centers like the one suggested by your husband’s doctor, most are used on a temporary basis to get a patient’s pain under control or when there are extenuating circumstances. Today, hospice is almost always offered in the person’s home and is covered by Medicare.
Because you live in a small town, you may want to check out the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) for resources close to you. NHPCO helps people who live in rural areas find hospice care. Home hospice uses a team approach with each patient typically assigned a registered nurse, bath aide, social worker, chaplain, and hospice volunteer. Team members are available 24/7 by phone and/or visit. The hospice benefit usually covers all necessary equipment and the team trains you to operate the equipment and to administer medications. The hospice volunteer is available to provide respite so you can have a break in or out of the home.
If additional help is needed with non-medical needs (bathing, toileting, ADLs, laundry, etc.), think about hiring an outside caregiver through an agency such as Family Resource Home Care. Our caregivers are compassionate, kind, and trained in end-of-life care.
I hope you will speak to your husband’s doctors. The expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support of the home hospice team should allow you to keep your husband at home, manage his pain, and support you in the role of primary caregiver.