I was gone for a long time now. Health issues, frequent travels to Chennai, work pressure took a toll on me and I didn't want to do anything. Everyday tasks seemed very boring and I lost interest completely. I hope this is a phase and goes off soon.
Coming to the title of the post, thats how I am feeling right now after my visit to Karunashraya, a Hospice for Cancer patients. Frankly speaking, I have never heard of the word hospice until I experienced it myself today. "A hospital is where treatment is given and Hospice is something where care is given" - as uttered by the managing person of Karunashraya. I got to know some striking facts from her.
- All the patients found in there are in the final most stages of life i.e the terminal stage.
- They charge nothing for the patients stay/food/medicines.
- All that the patients require is that love and care which works better than the medicines.
- Number of nurses/staff working there are always higher than the number of patients. They almost maintain nurse vs patient to 1:1
- All the staff or nurses working there are of age group 18-25.
- The period of stay for a patient is from 1 to 30 days at the maximum.
- Most of the patients doesnt know the fact that they are closer to death while coming here. All they hope for is a treatment that would take off their pain and they would want to go back home - which is an impossibility.
- They have a in-house cook preparing food for over 100 people - 45 patients and others are staff working there.
- For every meal, each patient is approached by a nurse to get to know the food that each one loves to have. If the demands are very exceptional, they try to at least get that from a hotel nearby for they cant take chances. One can never say which is the last meal for a patient.
- The hospice has around 55 nurses, 2 counselors and 2 doctors. The nurses are given free accommodation and food with a stipend of 5000Rs. Counselors are the only people whom the patients wish to see and they meet the patients every morning & evening.
- Some people are fortunate enough to stay 2-3 months and that's when it gets difficult for the nurses. They tend to get so close to these patients, their loss seems immense for them.
- Karunashraya runs solely on donations with no government aide. They have a 5 acre campus which is so peaceful and pleasant.
- It has a lake in the center surrounded by 4 wards each with 12 beds. The setup of the wards and beds are worth mentioning. All the beds have facing veranda. Some beds have the view to lake also. They are separated by curtains. Each bed has a opening at the rear end which remains closed. In case of death, a patient will be moved out of that door instead of taking him all the way through the ward. This means that other patients are not disturbed by the death of their neighbors.
- They have a common prayer room which has symbols of all religions. When a patient dies, he is kept there and prayers are offered. No screaming or crying loudly.
- They also have a meditation room which is being used by some patients or those young nurses to recollect themselves after every loss. Unlike a hospital where the nurses see the happy faces of cured patients, nurses at hospice only see deaths and sad faces. Meditation is utmost important to gain back courage and strength.
- There is no big procedure to join there - just a certificate which mentions that the patient is in final stage of cancer. They are free to go home anytime they wish. There are no visiting hours as such. Free to see anyone anytime. They have separate wards (private wards) which has a bed for an attendant. They are willing to give this room to anyone provided the attendant is willing to stay with them 24hrs. The attendant is not given free food though.
Personally, I am still not sure if our presence brought happiness to them or irritation! We were a bunch of 15 people who turned up from our company. We were asked to hand out some roses to the patients followed by a small game. What were the organizers thinking - a game for the patients who are dying in their game of life!!! We were told that most of the patients are confronting the meaning of life and are very much irritated by their own condition and wouldnt want to talk to anyone. In that case, we would not disturb those patients but keep a flower on their bed. We are allowed to talk to a few who were ready to talk to us. Since we visited them in the afternoon, most of them were sleeping. From what I could see, 99% of them were women.. :( I had a lump in my throat. They are reduced to a size of a 3year old, literally! I could see their bones very clearly... pathetic was their condition. Most of them having wounds that needs to be dressed every hour. I had tears welled up. I had to keep myself stone hard and not to break down infront of them while giving the roses. If possible, I should be a comfort to them. If not that, I should not be someone who should remind them of their sickness again! With all my heart sinking, I went into the first bed. There was a guy (not more than 25 years) fully covered with multiple blankets lying on the bed crying hard. So was his mother standing next to him. I felt ashamed to have interrupted their precious time together. But there was someone forcing me from behind and I couldnt help! I went in hesitantly.. The boy looked into my eyes, with his dark red teary eyes. I quickly turned to his mom, handed her the flower and said.. get well soon... :( I don't know why I said so.. but I was crying when I came out. I know he is in his last stage and he knows that too. My words are just for the comfort. We visited a few other beds where the patients were sleeping, reduced into a lump of meat and bones. I felt bad to have left the flower on the food table. It makes a huge difference to hand over the flower and to keep it on a table. I never know how many of the m woke up to see the flower.. :( I mean it really. When we enquired the staff there on the number of patients they said the count for yesterday was 38 and they are yet to count today.. the very statement made me very uneasy. They were really close to their death and some were counting the number of hours. We played housie game later with some 4 patients who would come to the auditorium. Some were least bothered to care what was happening around them. Winning a prize here does sound so stupid when they have lost everything in their life. I felt it meaningless. The aunty I was accompanying even felt bored and irritated to touch or hold the gift she just won. Again, I felt we were only disturbing them rather than comforting them. I just thought for a minute - even with a simple headache, I feel irritated so much. These people have gone beyond all the boundaries. I also got to hear some stories of some patients which I would like to jot down, I would come back to read it whenever I feel I have a suppressing problem.
- An oldman has gone back home 7 times claiming that he feels good to see death for the 8th time.
- A person wanted to have chicken biriyani for a meal and died for the next meal.
- No painkillers were working on an old lady. When counselors spoke to her for 3 -4 days, she opened up finally. She had just a pair of small gold studs. She wanted to give them to one particular grandchild of hers. She was adamant that she would not pass on that through her sons. Staff made that grandchild come the very next day. She handed them over to her grandchild personally and then had all the medicines work on her. She died soon after.
- A couple where the wife was in final stage didnt know she would die until she reached here. When she knew, she broke down completely. Her only wish was to see her sister with whom she had fought 30 years back and never spoke. The next day, the husband brought his SIL. They both broke down and spoke finally. This lady had the peaceful death later.
Some things that seem so small to us mean a lot to them. They dont have all the time in this world and know their life would end any moment. I learnt that life is too short and we are busy spending our time on unnecessary things like hatred, frustration, stress and anger without knowing the real importance of the time we have.
I have only wish today, I would pray for the same. Let all these innocent souls have peace at the soonest!!!