When it was announced on Sunday April 15th that Barbara Bush, the wife of one President and the mother of another, would be receiving comfort care, there was confusion as to what that meant. Comfort care refers to focusing on the symptoms of a disease and not focusing on curing the disease at the end of life. Hospice and palliative care are forms of comfort care. Comfort care is about maintaining dignity and managing patient’s symptom and maximizing the quality of the time that a person has left. The goal is care and not a cure of the underlying disease. There is a shift from fighting the disease to fighting the symptoms, the pain, and shortness of breath or whatever the symptoms may be.
The decision to change the focus of care is a personal one. Mrs. Bush chose to stop trips to the hospital for further aggressive treatment. Her choice and the choice of any patient who choses comfort care at the end of life, does not mean the patient is not cared for. We are all mortal, we all have a limited time on this earth. Although we know this in our head most of us avoid talking and dealing with this inevitable conclusion to our time on earth. Mrs. Bush announcement included a quote, “Life has been good and while more would be great this is enough.”
By opening up the conversation regarding care at the end of life it brings attention to a topic that most people are not comfortable with, our own mortality. April 16th, 2018 had been declared National Healthcare Decision Day. Medicare has a Voluntary Advance Care Planning benefit for people to make important decisions that give them control over the type of care they receive at end of life, and when they receive it. There are organizations that are trying to bring the importance of thinking about end of life issues and what our wishes are, to the forefront. The Conversation Project, End of Life Resources for Patients and Families, www.caregiver.org, www.nia.nih.gov, are all resources that can be used to start the conversation.
The choice is a one that not all family members arrive at or understand in the same time frame. Some patients look upon this decision as empowering. There is also some confusion as some patients and family members look upon this as “giving up.”
For many patients with malignant mesothelioma the end of the journey may come after months or years of dealing with disabling symptoms, along with having some quality time. It is very important that you speak to your medical team and make your wishes known.
Thank you, Barbara Bush for sharing so much of your private life and most intimate wishes.
Because of you this will give the power and courage to help people guide themselves through the pathway to the end of life. Hopefully the door has been opening to change the culture to openly talk about what matters most to all of us at end of life and share it with our loved ones.