Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Thinking About Hospice

Contemplating yesterday's post from Sogyal Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master and teacher, I am considering my new position as a hospice nurse for which I will begin orientation quite soon. Hospice truly is about the alleviation of suffering when curing has ceased and caring holds sway.

As the individual and his or her family make the choice to no longer pursue treatment, the job of hospice is to provide unfettered symptom management and pain relief as the patient moves towards death. Hospice is also about the care of the family and caregivers. Caring for a person who is evolving towards death can be an exhausting and overwhelming experience, and it is the responsibility of the hospice team to ascertain the family's level of coping, working to alleviate their suffering to whatever extent is possible, as well.

With my developing mindfulness practice and increasing interest in Buddhism, I am beginning to see more deeply how hospice work and the care of the dying meshes seamlessly with Buddhist practices in particular and mindfulness in general. Courses such as Naropa Institute's 17-week Contemplative End of Life Care certificate program for health care professionals and Upaya Zen Center's training program in Compassionate End-of-Life Care offer deeper explorations of these connections.

For now, a focus on basic mindfulness and my initial training in hospice care will suffice as I prepare to enter a new phase of professional development as a nurse. While I have unofficially provided hospice care to patients over the years as both a nurse care manager and a visiting nurse, this new opportunity will allow me to truly be part of a comprehensive hospice team, learning from those who have been developing these specific skills for years.

Dying is the last thing we all have to do in this life, and assisting those who are actively engaged in that process is an honor and a privilege. These are skills that I wish to nurture and develop, both personally and professionally, and I am quietly excited to watch as this door of opportunity opens.
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