I work in an extended-care facility. One of my patients, a young woman I'll call Christie, has terminal ovarian cancer. Her husband visits all day every day. They have no children. Yesterday I noticed how exhausted he seemed, so I encouraged him to leave early. He did, but Christie was anxious for the rest of the day. How can I help them?-S.E., OHIO
First, because Christie is terminally ill, she deserves a conversation about the benefits of hospice. Even though she doesn't qualify for Medicare, hospice programs are a nonprofit charity. If they accept donations, then they must provide services to any dying patient who requests care. Hospice caregivers can give Christie one-on-one attention so she'll feel safe without her husband's constant presence.
Speak with Christie's healthcare provider to determine how long he expects her to live. If it's only a few weeks, perhaps Christie could go home for her death. Often family and friends are willing to put their lives on hold for a short time to help out. Her weary husband may appreciate the trade-off of being caregiver if he can catch naps in his own home during the day.
No matter where she is, Christie needs lots of support and guidance through this scary time. Ask her if she'd like to talk about her concerns, feelings, and wants. And ask her husband the same; his burden goes beyond physical exhaustion. If this couple finds someone to guide them through the valley of the shadow of death, they may find a bit of light in these final days.