Shortly before she died on April 17, former First Lady Barbara Bush announced that she was abandoning treatment and accepting only “comfort care.”
Thank you, Barbara Bush.
Following in the steps of previous First Ladies, Mrs. Bush bravely exposed her private life in order to educate the American people. With Mrs. Bush’s decision to announce her choice to move to comfort care — also known as palliative care — she instigated a discussion on what options people have at the end of their lives.
When diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease, many people vow to “fight this thing.” Those who “win” are survivors — the “real heroes.” Others “lost the battle” — as if everyone isn’t going to die at some point.
But sooner or later, we are all going to die. And sometimes the point is not to fight to gain another month at any cost. That’s because the side effects of taking medicines that may or may not keep you alive for another week can be terribly high. Do you really want to live for an additional year if you are in constant pain, or unable to breathe without a machine or to eat or to talk?
It’s not a disgrace to say, “Enough.” And that’s what Barbara Bush did. Gracefully and firmly, she decided to spend the days left to her with her family and friends in the home she loved.
It’s important to note that several studies have shown that people entering comfort care live longer than doctors expect. And comfort care almost certainly increases quality of life. When, if, it becomes clear that the cure is not coming, or the physical and emotional costs of the cure are too high to bear, comfort care can help you achieve grace and serenity.
Combining Hospice and Palliative Care
Comfort care encompasses both hospice and the less-known palliative care. All comfort care focuses on managing pain and coping with the physical and mental stress of a terminal disease. Palliative care can start at diagnosis, even while the patient is receiving treatment.
Medical professionals involved in palliative care make certain that you are fully informed of the risks and benefits of the treatment you choose. They work hard to manage the side effects in order to keep the quality of life as high as possible. Hospice is when treatment is stopped and it’s clear that death is near. Generally people don’t enter hospice care until they are expected to not live longer than six more months.
Barbara Bush had the opportunity to work for many worthy causes as First Lady. Creating awareness of some of the choices faced at the end of life is a lasting good thing.